Matt Lewis

Blink: Herman Cain’s high ‘blink rate’

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Matt K. Lewis
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      Matt K. Lewis

      Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor to The Daily Caller, and a contributing editor for The Week. He is a respected commentator on politics and cultural issues, and has been cited by major publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Matt is from Myersville, MD and currently resides in Alexandria, VA. Follow Matt K. Lewis on Twitter <a>@mattklewis</a>.

With Herman Cain on the hot seat last night, I asked Stephen Clouse, a recognized communications expert and speech coach, to watch Cain closely.

Here’s what Clouse told me after the debate:

Herman was very nervous discussing the details of 9-9-9 early on. We know that by observing the blink rate of politicians, a high blink rate of 12-15 or more per minute reveals a high level of nervousness. That’s to be expected when you have the moderator and the frontrunners pounding you to answer questions about your tax proposal. By the way, I was counting as many as three or four blinks per :10 increment.

Clouse (who isn’t some “body language expert,” but rather, a real life communications expert) tells me that 8-12 blinks per minute is normal; Below 8 means you are bored and above 12 means you are nervous.

It’s unclear to me whether or not this sort of thing actually has an impact on the casual viewer. But I suspect that it does, at least, send some clues — perhaps telling the viewer that a candidate is stressed or nervous.

Update: I asked Clouse to explain the impact a high blink rate might have on viewers:

When people see a high blink rate there is a sense that something is wrong but they can’t tell you why.  It’s an unconscious visual cue that makes people step back and be a little more on guard.  The experts actually study this trend and can tell you 8 to 12 seems about right.

If you review earlier debate videos, the 2004 VP debates between VP Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards were legendary in how nervous Edwards was. You see a further repeat of this a few years later when Sen. Edwards talks to the press and denies about bearing a child out of wedlock. Classic!  Your visual cues speak so loudly that people often can’t hear what you are saying. Remember, we communicate visually 55%, vocally 38% and verbally 8%.