USF research team to track live Democratic debate reaction using biometrics

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Researchers at the University of South Florida will use biometrics to track real time responses to Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate.

Using wireless sensors worn like watches, called Shimmers, viewers will have their physiological responses monitored and mapped to see which candidates and issues draw the strongest reactions.

The event is organized by Robert Hammond, director of USF’s Center for Marketing and Sales innovation lab which is home to one of the largest biometric labs in the world.

“It’s an opportunity to answer some fundamental questions that are out there,” Hammond said. To his knowledge, this is the first time biometric technology has been applied to politics.

According to Hammond, emotions change conductivity in the body. An emotional reaction, like strong dislike, creates an electrical response under the skin which can be measured and charted.

“If they were really emotionally engaged in that, then we’ll see a spike and we’ll see the resistance of the skin drop and the conductivity of the skin go up,” Hammond explained.

This type of subconscious measurement can be more accurate than a post-debate survey, Hammond says, because it eliminates any emotional or perceptional bias that could sway a participant’s answer.

Hammond pointed out polling in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election that did not accurate reflect how people actually voted as an example for why unfiltered reactions can be an important tool.

“This gets us out of the brain,” Hammond said. “Takes the brain out of the process.”

Preliminary results following Wednesday’s debate will available within an hour of the debate’s conclusion. Hammond’s team will then spend the next day or two analyzing that data.

One caveat to the data is that because the subjects are student volunteers, they are not a statistically sound sample that accurately reflects local demographics or a range of ages, ethnic groups and political affiliations.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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