ReConstitution 2012 Reveals Hidden Meaning In Obama’s And Romney’s Words

The interactive web project analyzes words and phrases used by the candidates to provide real-time snapshots of their inner psychological states.

The victories and losses of presidential debates aren’t determined by refined, data-driven science. Rather, they’re heavily swayed by commentary from media pundits and political analysts who make it difficult to assess each candidate’s presentation with an objective eye.


So to coincide with tonight’s second presidential debate of the season, Boston-based digital arts and technology studio SoSoLimited has partnered with Vice and Intel‘s The Creators Project to, well, create ReConstitution 2012, a real-time, interactive web app that deconstructs the dialogue unfolding on your screen.

ReConstitution streams the word-for-word text of the debate to provide a real-time transcription of what the candidates are saying. It then combines the text with an overlay of “statistical and graphical explosions of information” that pop up in response to particular words and phrases the candidates use. Drawing from research at both Intel Labs and the University of Texas at Austin, ReConstitution attempts to ascribe meaning to these choice words and phrases and will make comments like “Gloomy Outlook” and “Bullish Outburst” and “Obama sounds less O.C.D. than Romney.” It also picks up on all kinds of signals in the candidates’ answers to determine their respective psychological states at any given point (positive, angry, cheerful, among others) as well as how they stack up to previous candidates. For example, a candidate who frequently uses “I” or “my” comes across as more truthful than one who favors “We” statements, who comes off as deceptive.

SoSoLimited’s John Rothenberg tells Fast Company that ReConstitution 2012 is designed to provide viewers with a complementary way to immerse themselves in the debate experience, using only the lens of language to guide them.

“There’s rarely an event that’s totally based around language that’s watched simultaneously and live by 50 million people,” Rothenberg says. “There’s a whole industry of media punditry around it, and who won the debate is decided without any real data. It’s just a bunch of subjective opinions that get hashed around and crystallized.”

SoSoLimited is also working with The Creators Project to release an open-source version of their code, effectively releasing an API that anyone can build on to gain psychological insights from language analysis. That could apply to everything from corporate reports to conference transcripts to an important presentation you have coming up at work.

“On the biggest possible level, we’re looking at what we can do with some of these areas of research within Intel,” says Ciel Hunter, creative director of The Creators Project. “There’s a lot of excitement to see where we can push some of these things a lot further after this is all over.”


You can see SoSoLimited’s retroactive analysis of the last presidential debate at work here.

About the author

Christina is an associate editor at Fast Company, where she writes about technology, social media, and business.