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Facial Recognition Helps ID Winners in Presidential Debates

Written By imam santoso on Thursday, October 18, 2012 | 9:56 PM

Marketing researcher Chris Kowal has an unusual way of deciding who wins each U.S. presidential debate this year. He's using facial recognition technology to capture the emotions President Barack Obama, presidential candidate Mitt Romney and their vice president picks show while they debate. Whoever is more open and expressive appeals to voters more, Kowal told WLFI, a Lafayette, Ind. news station.

"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. He is a professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette.

Kowal found that Obama won the second presidential debate on Oct. 16, an assessment that agrees with many news outlets' conclusions. Compared to his performance in the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, Obama was more confident, showed a wider range of emotions and connected with the audience better, Kowal told WLFI. The researcher noted the sadness in the president's face when he talked about the shootings in Aurora, Colo.

Romney showed a more limited range of emotions, but nevertheless displayed some strong feelings, especially disgust, Kowal told WLFI. The Republican candidate showed pride when he talked about his governorship of Massachusetts, Kowal said.


The software Kowal uses analyzes video clips, tracking the movement of 491 points in people's faces to identify universal emotions such as happiness, sadness, disgust, surprise and fear.

Kowal has put his software to work for all of the debates so far. During the first presidential debate, he found Romney displayed aggressive, powerful emotions "70 percent of the time he was speaking to President Obama," he told WTHR, an Indiana-based NBC affiliate.

Obama, on the other hand, kept his head down, making it difficult for the software to track his emotions. "He didn't allow himself to be expressive," Kowal said.

During the vice presidential debate Oct. 11, Kowal identified aggressive emotions in Vice President Joe Biden and surprise in Republican candidate Paul Ryan. Nevertheless, Ryan was likeable throughout the debate, Kowal said.

Kowal didn't identify a vice presidential debate winner for CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin, who interviewed him. Instead, he said the debate probably encouraged and motivated decided voters on both sides without necessary swaying undecided citizens.

Kowal will use the data he collects this election season to check his analyses match how voters really feel, WLFI reported. It should also be possible to use facial recognition to check when debaters are lying, Kowal said.

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