Psychology professor Carrie Keating studies charisma, physical leadership qualities, and the facial features that suggest power as well as compassion. Last night, she watched the first of four presidential campaign debates for clues to how the candidates are being perceived by voters in the home stretch.
“My premise is that there is no substance without style,” Keating said, “so whether you watched the debate with the sound on or muted, there was little doubt that the most powerful man on the stage was Governor Romney.
“He gestured confidently and energetically, he smiled a lot and appeared eager to address questions, and he seemed not at all intimidated to share the stage with the U.S. President.”
Keating said, too, that Romney’s paralanguage — everything about his language but the words themselves — also conveyed strength. “He spoke loud and fast, a style that has the effect of not only making the speaker seem enthusiastic about his ideas but also highly knowledgeable about them.”
As she predicted, his practice during the primary season was no doubt very helpful.
In contrast, she said, although President Obama’s body language typically projects dominance, and was a likely factor in his 2008 win, his performance last night fell flat.
“Few peaks or valleys of emotion marked his demeanor. He seldom smiled and maintained a slightly negative expression on his face. His nonverbal gestures seemed habitual rather than felt,” Keating said.
“One of the camera angles frequently captured the President nodding as his opponent spoke, making it almost look like he was agreeing with Romney’s criticisms. And twice he apologized to the moderator for overrunning his response time limits, making him seem perhaps too accommodating.”
With three debates remaining, Keating will stay tuned to see how the performances evolve.
“We ask superhuman things from these all-too-human leaders, of course. We ask them to be inspiring visionaries, talented managers, and, whether we know it or not, great actors.”