Friday, 2 July 2010

It's the way they move - politicians' personalities inferred from their motion patterns

People form impressions about the personality of politicians simply from the way they move, according to a new study. This isn't your typical body-language investigation into double-armed hand-shakes, bitten lips and fidgety fingers. Rather Markus Koppensteiner and Karl Grammer devised a new system for mathematically describing the movement patterns of forty real German politicians giving speeches in parliament. Each 16-second, silent video was converted into a stick figure by using an interactive computer programme to place dots on key landmarks such as the elbows, shoulders and forehead. The movement of these landmarks generated dynamic coordinate data which was then crunched according to mathematical characteristics including the 'turbulence coefficient' (i.e. periods of high activity followed by periods of low activity), and the activity levels of body parts such as the head and arms.

Next, 150 participants, mostly students, watched these same video clips and rated the personalities of the moving stick figures. The key finding was that there were correlations between the personality characteristics attributed by the students to the stick figures and the motion patterns of those stick figures as identified by the researchers' motion analysis programme. For example, politicians who displayed a high turbulent coefficient (low activity interrupted by periods of high activity) tended to be rated as more agreeable. Those who displayed more head movements were considered less conscientious, and those who showed low turbulence (i.e. consistently high activity levels) with many horizontal and vertical arm movements tended to be considered more extravert.

Koppensteiner told the Digest that these results are preliminary so caution is advised. For example, it's far too soon to consider body language training based on the findings. 'Telling someone to move a lot (which I found to be a signal for high extraversion) would not turn this person into an extravert. Maybe it would just look strange,' he said. Part of the reason for the caution is that these movement patterns were considered all together, so it's not obvious what effect it would have if just one element were changed. Nor is it known whether a trained pattern of movement would provoke the same personality attributions as when that same pattern occurs naturally. Finally, the personality ratings in the current study were made in the absence of any speech so we don't yet know how movement patterns and speech interact.

Notwithstanding those caveats, Koppensteiner said that the findings do have exciting implications - for example, if the technique were refined, it's possible that it may one day be possible to analyse a politician's movement patterns and predict the kind of personality attributions that voters are likely to make about them. Also, if these attributions reflect politicians' actual personalities, then an analysis of their movement patterns could be used as a way to discern their personality. 'Although at an exploratory stage,' Koppensteiner and Grammer concluded, 'the current study hints that charisma is partly linked to individual differences in successfully presenting oneself on a non-verbal level.'
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ResearchBlogging.orgKoppensteiner, M., & Grammer, K. (2010). Motion patterns in political speech and their influence on personality ratings. Journal of Research in Personality, 44 (3), 374-379 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2010.04.002

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:30 pm

    When this technique is perfected, someone will need to develop a very mild electro-shock system that a politician's "producer" can activate to shock the politician's body into more effective movements.

    Or voters could choose to use a system where they see the stick figures of the candidates moving in a brief video and decide their vote on that basis.

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  2. Very interesting. If I recall correctly, there is some prior research suggesting that people's snap judgments regarding personality characteristics are surprisingly accurate (which is merely to say that they are nontrivially better than chance). So I guess an interesting next question for this research would be, to what extent do these movement analyses predict the politicians' actual personalities? In other words, are subjects in these studies actually gleaning some real information from movement?

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  3. Ah, well I just noticed that this thought was in the concluding comments. :P

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  4. it is also questionable why people think like this... ->

    in my opinion, people agree to these "fast moving politicans" (nowadays) more, because they want something big to be moved in their inner selves. currently we are thinking, because we belive if we could change the outer world - our inner world will change too.
    but as nano-technologie reveals, it's vice versa.

    regarding an ideal-near state - non-profit orientated, free creativity, and so on. .. if everybody would 'feel' fine (imagine), the agreement to a fast moving politicans would be complete different.

    (excuse my no so good engl)
    i tried to translate my thoughts directly.
    best regards,
    marc

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