By analyzing contestants' behavior and patterns of blinking on the British TV show "Mastermind," cognitive scientists at the University of Arizona have studied human physiology under conditions of stress that would be impossible to reproduce in the lab. Robert Wilson is the senior author on the paper, and is an associate professor in cognition and neural systems at the UArizona Department of Psychology.
On "Mastermind," contestants sit in a big leather chair, Wilson said, answering rapid-fire questions under the glare of spotlights as a camera slowly zooms in on their face. The bright lights and slow camera work make it easy to identify blinks, and the stress of being interrogated on national TV cannot be re-created under lab conditions, he said. The researchers analyzed 25 episodes from two seasons of the game show to collect data from 100 contestants.
One key finding from the lab is that blinking acts like a "punctuation of thought," Wilson said, and this result held true on TV. The stress of "Mastermind" was also apparent in contestants' blinking, with their blink rate nearly twice the number of the usual 20 blinks per minute of a person who is at rest. For more on the results and their possible implications: