Monday, October 6, 2008

Experts: McCain's Style "Depressing"; So Palin Gives Him "Manic" Side

Going into the debates, it makes sense to look at the potential effect of the two candidates' speaking styles, and experts have been watching and analyzing. New software into whether or not political candidates are being honest or just spinning based on speech and verbal patterns, inflections, style, etc., came to this unexpected conclusion - honesty aside - about John McCain's style:

"The voice analysis profile for McCain looks very much like someone who is clinically depressed," says Pollermann, a psychologist who uses voice analysis software in her work with patients. Previous research on mirror neurons has shown that listening to depressed voices can make others feel depressed themselves, she says.

So that's why he picked Sarah Palin! Someone who, in contrast to his "depressed" and depressing monotone style, is the closest one could possibly get in politics to totally "manic".

David Skillicorn, a mathematics and computer science researcher at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, developed the software that analyzes word usage within the text of a conversation or speech to determine when a person (in this case, a politician) "presents themselves or their content in a way that does not necessarily reflect what they know to be true".

The study conducted by Pollerman using this software not only reveals why McCain is so ineffective as a speaker, contrasting sharply with the powerful appeal of Obama's speaking style, but also

Pollermann uses auditory analysis software to map seven parameters of a person's speech, including pitch modulation, volume and fluency, to create a voice profile. She then compares that profile with the speaker's facial expressions, using as a guide a set of facial expressions mapped out by Paul Ekman, (an expert on facial expression analysis) called the Facial Action Coding System, to develop an overall picture of how they express themselves.

Her analysis shows that McCain's voice changes little in pitch as he speaks, and so conveys very little emotion or impact. Whether he is addressing positive prospects or discussing sad facts, his voice always sounds the same.
Additionally, McCain's voice and facial movements often do not match up, says Pollermann, and he often smiles in a manner that commonly conveys sarcasm when addressing controversial statements. "That might lead to what I would call a lack of credibility."

People are unlikely to trust statements made in a flat tone, particularly when they do not match the person's facial expressions. According to Pollermann's analysis, it may not make any difference that McCain does not pepper his speeches with spin, if the way he talks does not strike people as believable.

Obama, by comparison, speaks with greater pitch modulation, and his facial expressions correlate very well with what he is saying. His one facial foible may be a tendency to furrow his brow, she says, conveying constant concern. This is similar to the UK prime minister Gordon Brown, whose expressions tend to be limited to sadness, anger and disgust, according to the Vox Institute's analysis. But Obama's fluency, high speech rate and good use of pitch make him a dynamic speaker.

This bodes well for Obama's wide appeal and ability to transcend racial prejudices and political boundaries. At the same time, in terms of actual "spin", Obama ranks much higher than McCain. This does not translate into "dishonesty", but rather, I believe, to be an indicator of rhetorical ability, where the politician "creates" an image. McCain is not adept at creating his image rhetorically, and relies instead on a set of images, such as the "maverick" image, made by others and accumulated over the years. He has a greater need for an enthusiastic, expressive surrogate. Preferably a woman. Enter Sarah Palin.

In general ... Obama's speeches contain considerably higher spin than either McCain or (Hillary) Clinton. For example, for their speeches accepting their party's nomination for president, Obama's speech scored a spin value of 6.7 - where 0 is the average level of spin within all the political speeches analysed, and positive values represent higher spin. In contrast, McCain's speech scored -7.58, while Hillary Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention scored 0.15. Skillicorn also found that Sarah Palin's speeches contain slightly more spin than average.

So the analysis appears to back up McCain's claim that he is a "straight talker". However, for the purposes of political speech-making this may not be an entirely good thing for him. "Obama uses spin in his speeches very well," says Skillicorn. For example, Obama's spin level skyrockets when facing problems in the press, such as when Jeremiah Wright, the reverend of his former church, made controversial comments to the press.

And in reality, people need leaders who can "spin" well without compromising basic principles. McCain lies as well as the next guy, but he doesn't spin well. That makes him an uninspiring candidate who doesn't create concern or motivate people on a large public scale. That in turn does not bode well for him as a leader in a nation where confidence alone can make or break an economy, support for a cause such as war or peace, or cooperation between parties. Both McCain and Bush share this inability to inspire, which inability has led, in the past eight GOP years, to a huge increase in conflicts and divisiveness both domestically and internationally.

Even though, Obama would do well to note that there's such a thing as "overspin", where he looks almost too "rhetorical" and generalizing, not connecting enough with people straight on. Then again, in tough times, which is what we have now, inspiration definitely trumps your classic monotone.

And as for the methods of determining that Obama's rhetorical skills are somehow indicative of dishonesty, while McCain's use of "I" as opposed to "we" is a "sign" of "straight talk", well, we have the facts that show otherwise. Or as a wise commenter on this article said:

...this article and the researchers it quotes seemingly tend to conflate rhetorical sophistication with dishonesty. But liars can be plain-spoken, too, and oratorical prowess doesn't necessarily signal deception.

According to my analysis, the studies referenced in this article merit a pseudo-science quotient of 7.582350146 on the Taural feces index. Computer science researchers should leave the study of political speech-making to rhetoricians.

So we'll take from these experts their observations about McCain's depressing style - a hard observation to dismiss, with all the overwhelming evidence we all can attest to - rather than their "conclusions" regarding "spin" vs. "straight talk".

Because it's overwhelmingly obvious who is talking the desperate lies under the guise of "straight-talk". And it's clear that a depression-talking pol needs a manic running mate. And in Sarah Palin, McCain has met his match. Depressing McCain whose expression is always the same, matched with Manic Palin, whose expression is also always the same, just more hyped-up and dramatized/energized. And they're on the same page when it comes to lies. Feed her the lies, she processes them quite predictably, in her own manic style. As for McCain, he has a special gift for hypocrisy and position-changing that will keep them both lying, Bush-style, all the way. Does this Manic-Depression thing mean we have, on the GOP side, Team Bipolar???

Well, gosh darn it...(wink)... YOU BETCHA! But it's a Bi-Polar Team of Mavericks!

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