November 30, 2023

Researchers have found that analyzing the behavior and blinking patterns of contestants on high-stress TV game shows or politicians in press conferences can provide valuable insights into human physiology under stressful conditions that cannot be replicated in a lab. This study focuses on the British TV show Mastermind, where contestants are put under the spotlight and asked rapid-fire questions, making it an ideal environment for studying stress-induced physiological responses.

The study, titled “The Psychophysiology of Mastermind: Characterizing Response Times and Blinking in a High-stakes Television Game Show,” was conducted by University of Arizona researchers and recently published in the journal Psychophysiology. The researchers collected data from 100 contestants on the show and analyzed nearly 100,000 data points, including blinking patterns and response times.

The study found that contestants blinked at the “punctuation marks” of the game, such as the start of each question and the start of their response, which is consistent with previous lab-based studies. They also observed that contestants blinked less while thinking about their answers, indicating a reduction in cognitive effort. Additionally, the stress of the quiz show was evident in the contestants’ blink rate, which was nearly twice as high as the normal blink rate for a person at rest.

However, some findings from the TV show differed from those of lab tests. For example, older adults and women blinked more than younger adults and men, which was not observed in lab-based studies. These differences between real-world scenarios and lab conditions are the most exciting part of the research, as they raise questions about the generalizability of findings from controlled settings to real-world situations.

Lead author Skyler Wyly emphasized the potential for video-based neuroscience in real-world scenarios, stating that this method allows researchers to study human behavior and cognitive processes in more natural environments. The researchers hope to further explore the relationship between blinking and cognitive effort and expand their analysis to include other physiological measures derived from video signals.

In conclusion, this study demonstrates the value of using high-stress TV game shows as a platform for studying human behavior and physiology under pressure. The findings provide valuable insights into the physiological responses to stress and highlight the need to consider real-world scenarios when studying cognitive processes and behavior.