PURDUE UNIVERSITY, Ind. (WLFI) - Purdue College of Health and Human Sciences Assistant Professor Chris Kowal is tracking facial expressions of both President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney during presidential debates.
Kowal said by tracking facial expressions he can pinpoint their emotions at any given point during the debate.
"Those very basic emotions: happy, sad, disgust, surprise, afraid. Those are universal emotions. There are going to be muscle movements that are going to communicate those specific emotions and that's what this does," Kowal said.
The software works by mapping the movement of muscles in the face. With every movement a data point is created and can be used by researchers to identify emotions. Kowal said emotions are a powerful tool used to attract voters.
"The most important part of any type of branding, sales appeal, voter attraction, whatever you want to look at, is going to be that emotional connection," Kowal said.
As for his findings from the first presidential debate, Kowal said his data indicates Romney showed more emotion during the debate than President Obama.
"Which also suggests that he was very expressive. He displayed anger and scorn and those types of emotions, whereas, President Obama, when he was speaking, had a very neutral valence," Kowal said.
Because Romney was more expressive than President Obama during the debate, Kowal said he may have influenced more voters.
"There might be enough Independent voters who are feeling those same emotions so therefore, they, all of a sudden, may have felt a connection," Kowal said.
Tracking facial expressions and identifying emotions may be a useful tool used for fact checking as well. Kowal said he hasn't tried it, but said it can be done.
"So it would be very fascinating and relatively easy to correlate the time in which the fact checkers have suggested the truthfulness and to correlate the facial expressions," Kowal said. "That's something that could be done."
Kowal's main focus is collecting data over the presidential debates and seeing if his research aligns with voters' perceptions.
"Really the next step then is to measure the voters' emotional perception of the candidates to make sure that these emotions that are being expressed are really being communicated to the viewers and felt," Kowal said.
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