What Do the Candidates’ Gestures Tell Us?

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Besides the talking points, the zingers and the straight-to-camera delivery, there’s another way that the candidates communicate with voters: body language. The New York Times presented a fun interactive feature today that attempts to interpret the gestures the candidates favor when speaking publicly.

Peggy Hackney is an analyst at the New York University Movement Lab, and she’s been studying the body language of both candidates during their speeches and debates. If you hadn’t noticed, apparently Obama makes a lot of chopping motions with his hand, while Romney tilts his head and nods a lot. Hackney pulled out six gestures the candidates favor in their stump speeches and analyzes what they tell us about the candidates.

Romney’s head nod, for instance, makes him seem more amiable.

The interactive explains:

“Mr. Romney often uses two head movements to punctuate an idea. [...] Mr. Romney tilts his head to one side, with eyes open wide, as if to ask, ‘Don’t you agree with me?’ [Then], he nods his head, a gesture that suggests, ‘Of course we agree.’”

Obama’s chopping motion? It also punctuates descriptions of actions — either his own, the listeners’ or his opponents.

The interactive explains:

“Mr. Obama often makes a downward chopping motion to place emphasis on an action verb. He has used this to convey a task that he or the viewer might undertake, as well as to sarcastically suggest something his opponent might do.”

To read about and watch video of the candidates’ other favorite gestures, visit the NY Times interactive.

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  • Bob Pfeifer

    John, you can be sure I noticed all of the gestures highlighted in your piece. Frankly, Mitt’s head nod has always been extremely irritating to me. My thoughts include “Yes Mitt, I can think for myself, thank you….” I generally find that particular gesture of his condescending and highly annoying.

    I rely on Bill and his staff and the other great workers in public television and radio to help sort out all of the BS, and to give us a few facts that we can depend on. I am far, far more interested in past performance of any candidate, particularly when in actual public office, than their gestures, however those sometimes give me a clue as to their inner values. On that score, for me, Mitt is a big loser. His “47% speech” caught by a patriot, is well in synch with his “don’t you agree with me” gesture.

  • DaveH

    Mitt Romney’s head bobbing/nodding is annoying. He’s somewhere between the church lady and Mrs Kravitz. Im not sure where Ive seen it before but it is annoying. I also see a bit of Jay Leno doing that head shaking/scolding routine that he does (or did – I dont really watch him anymore)

  • Strawman411

    It all reminds me of the techniques of market-testing, having wired-up subjects watching ads and measuring if and how much their palms sweat in reaction to those ads.

    So, the president will (again) likely be chosen according to the level of his appeal to the reptilian part of our brains.

    Informed electorate? Pretty funny.