The science behind the Facepalm

BOSTON, MA – Researchers in the Behavioral Science department of Harvard Medical School observed the behavior of volunteers as they watched hundreds of hours of video. The were a total of 436 volunteers; mostly undergraduate and graduate students from Harvard and MIT. The results were surprising, even to the investigators.

Federico Ippolito, PhD, principal investigator of the study was interviewed by The Spudd: “It is quite unusual for a human behavior to occur in such a predictable manner, but among our sample the facepalm response was highly predictable using a simple mathematical formula.”

Based on multivariate analysis of hundreds of hours of observation, Dr. Ippolito and his team have been able to calculate a facepalm index (FI):

“If we know certain information about the observer such as college major, years of education, and reading habits, we can predict, with a high rate of precision, the probability of eliciting a facepalm response under controlled experimental conditions.”

The subject matter of the video also influenced the frequency and amplitude of facepalm behavior. Dr. Ippolito offered an example:

“Among our catalog of videos was a debate involving Dr. Deepak Chopra. Not only did we have to go back to the laboratory to recalibrate our facepalm meters, the ethics committee required us to suspend the study because of excess injuries among our research subjects.”

The Chopra debate currently holds the record for facepalm amplitude, however the record for facepalm frequency is held by an episode of Dr. Oz featuring guest Jenny McCarthy, registering a mean facepalm rate of .021 ± .004 Hz.


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