Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2152:
Second Presidential Debate - 16 October 2012 -
Barack Obama's Duping Delight -
Benghazi, Libya Attack was an "Act of Terror" -
Alpha, Beta, Confidence & Acquiescence ....

During last night's second 2012 U.S. Presidential debate, the attack on the American Embassy in Libya was of course raised. Note that as soon as the Moderator (Candy Crowley) said, " ... Secretary of State ... " President Obama's feet immediately configured to his widest stance of the evening (Mitt Romney, in general, kept his feet too close together for much of the debate - this is interpreted too acquiescing and beta). When the feet are positioned about a shoulder's width distance apart - it projects and is indicative of a higher level of confidence and authority. He then very briefly held the microphone with two hands in front of his lower abdomen when Crowley said, " .... she takes full responsibility for the attack on the Embassy in Benghazi ...." - indicating, transiently, a lower level of comfort with how he was going to respond to this question of full responsibility. Such emotional dissonance is common in a stressful scenario. Between the two competing emotions of confident authority vs. his anxiety about answering however - the alpha emotional tone of the Commander-in-Chief won out - and he no longer displayed this self-touching, self-comforting MAP (Manipulator, Adaptor, Pacifier) configuration. Indeed Obama readjusts his feet to an even wider stance (0:23) as he "digs in" to answer this question with force.

Moments later as President Obama recounts his press conference in the Rose Garden on 12 September 2012, he uses the "Dominant Spider" (0:43 - 0:44) and its more assertive cousin "The Claw" (0:45 - 0:49) to help illustrate his recounting of the events. The second he spoke about, " .... we are going to hunt down those who committed this crime ..." (0:49 - 0:50 and again at 0:51 - 0:53) he displayed an accusatory "Index Finger Point" (aka Forefinger Point) toward the audience (I would have advised him to point down instead, only with a greater arm-shoulder display of force and greater verbal emphasis and volume). He then switched to the less aggressive "Loose Fist Thumbs Up" aka LFTU (0:53 - 1:01) gesture when he spoke about receiving the caskets of the four Americans and grieving with the families at Andrews Air Force Base (although his fist could have been more loosely configured - it was still too tight). The LFTU is a great "alpha-beta hybrid" nonverbal which is not overly aggressive and yet still displays a good level of confidence. Obama then dialed up his assertiveness once again with an index finger point with wagging at Governor Romney (1:23 - 1:24) ".... is offensive, that's not what we do ..." The extra wagging nonverbal modifier acts as an amplifier for the President - reminding the former governor (and everyone else) that HE is commander-in-chief. In this context it worked to Obama's advantage, but here it is a relative exception - for most of the time this body language illustrator will project arrogance and patronizing emotions. The President gets a pass here because for a moment, even many republicans are attempting to empathize with the weight of responsibility of four dead Americans.

Obama then displays a great body language cluster as he further admonishes Romney when he says, "....That's not what I do as President. That's not what I do as Commander in Chief ....". Note how he rotates & tilts his head/neck with his chin turning away with his head tilting towards Mitt. He also displays an extended blink which further drives home his scolding. In addition a subtle anger glare can be seen at 1:26 - 1:27 and at 1:28 (about a 2 or 3 on a 1-10 scale). He also shows us his right forehead-eyebrow slightly elevated in a body language tell of incredulity. The vast majority of the time, nonverbal experts will speak of the hands & arms when talking about illustrators - however these are all great examples of facial illustrators.

President Obama then turns his back on Governor Romney as he walks to his chair (1:31 - 1:34) - a beacon of disrespect and dismissal.

Mitt Romney's bilateral eyebrow flash - entire width elevated forehead (1:49) - is a common nonverbal signal of demand for a verbal response to a question. President Obama then displays a subtle "Duping Delight" with a slight left-sided smile (1:54) after he tells Romney, ".... Please proceed Governor ....." . Mitt Romney sees this body language and immediately senses that something (from his point of view) is amiss. This is demonstrated verbally by the candidate's extended stuttering during the 1:54 - 1:56 segment. More obvious and similar duping delight is again demonstrated during 2:03 - 2:06 and again at 2:07 - 2:09. Obama turned what could have been a very injurious issue into what many thought was his best moment of the night.

There were, of course, many other body language tells in this video. These were a few highlights. Obama made a clear comeback in this second debate - both verbally and nonverbally. Will it be best of three?

See also:

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 1251: Las Vegas Channel 8 KLAS Interview - Body Language in Tonight's Debate - Evaluation of earlier Debates

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2150: Body Language Advice for President Obama and Governor Romney for the Second Debate

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2138: President Obama's Anger During First Debate - An Under-Appreciated Body Language Signal

Nonverbal Analysis # 2137: Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama - First Presidential Debate - Barack's Bad Body Language