The psychophysiology of Mastermind: Characterizing response times and blinking in a high-stakes television game show

Skyler Wyly, Neryanne Jinon, Timothy Francis, Hailey Evans, Tsai Lieh Kao, Shelby Lambert, Shayne Montgomery, Marvelene Newlove, Haley Mariscal, Henry Nguyen, Harrison Cole, Israel Aispuro, Daniela Robledo, Olivia Tenaglia, Nina Weinberger, Bill Nguyen, Hailey Waits, Daisy Jorian, Lucas Koch-Kreher, Hunter MyrdalVictoria Antoniou, Meghana Warrier, Leah Wunsch, Iram Arce, Kayla Kirchner, Elena Campos, An Nguyen, Kaitlynn Rodriguez, Lanqin Cao, Avery Halmekangas, Robert C. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Television game shows have proven to be a valuable resource for studying human behavior under conditions of high stress and high stakes. However, previous work has focused mostly on choices—ignoring much of the rich visual information that is available on screen. Here, we take a first step to extracting more of this information by investigating the response times and blinking of contestants in the BBC show Mastermind. In Mastermind, contestants answer rapid-fire quiz questions while a camera slowly zooms in on their faces. By labeling contestants' behavior and blinks from 25 episodes, we asked how accuracy, response times, and blinking varied over the course of the game. For accuracy and response times, we tested whether contestants responded more accurately and more slowly after an error—exhibiting the “post-error increase in accuracy” and “post-error slowing” which has been repeatedly observed in the lab. For blinking, we tested whether blink rates varied according to the cognitive demands of the game—decreasing during periods of cognitive load, such as when pondering a response, and increasing at event boundaries in the task, such as the start of a question. In contrast to the lab, evidence for post-error changes in accuracy and response time was weak, with only marginal effects observed. In line with the lab, blinking varied over the course of the game much as we predicted. Overall, our findings demonstrate the potential of extracting dynamic signals from game shows to study the psychophysiology of behavior in the real world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14485
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • blinking
  • cognition
  • game show
  • post-error slowing
  • real-world behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)


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