First Expert Panel on the Science of the Presidential Debate

Newswise — The first expert panel on the Science of the Presidential Debate between Trump and Clinton took place on Tuesday, September 27th. The four experts offered a unique scientific perspective, discussing psychological data based on facial gestures, tone and the communicated emotions of the candidates. They also discussed the rhetoric style and aggressive behavior of the candidates, including the meaning of interruptions and gestures.


Simon DeDeo, PhD, Santa Fe Institute and Carnegie Mellon University, discussed the differences in pronouns used by the candidates. Donald Trump used a lot of "they, them, and I" while Hilary Clinton used more "we and us." Trump frequently said the word "look." Clinton often mentioned the word "think." Both of the candidates shared the word "new." Based on his analysis of the divergence of words between the candidates over the last 40 years, there was a relatively small distinction between the candidates in terms of the language used, similar to the debates between Bush and Gore in 2000. The debate "lacked a richness in vocabulary," said DeDeo.

Kristine L. Muñoz, PhD from University of Iowa, presented data on the interruptions, distinguishing between hostile and other kinds of interruptions. Trump had 30 successful interruptions. Clinton successfully interrupted 5 times, while moderator Lestor Holt successfully interrupted the candidates 3 times.

Tim Ketelaar, PhD, New Mexico State University, discussed the positive and negative facial expressions of the candidates. Although there was no big loss, or "Al Gore moment," Hilary Clinton had a small advantage by showing amusement (smiling) and warmth. Donald Trump expressed dismay a few times with his frequent drinking of water. Both candidates were composed and showed no signs of extreme emotion.

Erik Bucy, PhD, Texas Tech University, discussed the real-time reaction of a test audience composed of students. The students who classified themselves as "Independents" reacted positively to Clinton when she talked about the struggles of middle class and mentioned her own family. Bucy noted that what was particularly interesting about the response was not in reaction to what the candidate said but how they spoke.

View the discussion:

Please tune in to our second panel of experts today (Wednesday, Sept. 28th) at 11AM ET. Register here as soon as possible for guaranteed seating; there is limited seating in the virtual room. For more information on the next panel, please see our original release here.

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