Neuroself Live Blogs the Presidential Debate

October 3, 2012


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Neuroself Live Blogs the Presidential Debate
Wednesday October 3, 2012
Hmmm, Romney’s taller. They say the taller candidate usually wins.
Obama’s opening joke about marrying Michelle falls flat. Seems forced. Why make jokes after you’re told by the moderator that nobody is allowed to laugh?
Obama: it matters not where we’ve been but where we’re going? He’s trying to make voters forget that incumbents are usually judged by the inverse question.
I’m picking up obama is nervous. Dry mouth. Faster speech.
Weird homoerotic joke by Romney. But also seems heartfelt.
Whoa. Is Romney being specific? And ballsy? In his first answer? Hello.
Romney’s nonverbals are schooling Obama; asserting dominance. Obama head down. Should be glaring right back at him.
Romney showing good prefrontal lobe functioning. PFC is for sequencing (among other things), like an airtraffic controller making sure the ideas take off in an orderly manner. He’s keeping good track of his points and delivering them smoothly.
Obama continues to appear pissed, shamed. Looks sullen. I’d bet anything his amygdala and PAG are on fire right now.
Romney ends with a Duchene’s smile. He’s been practicing it for years.
Obama on the defense for some reason. What?
Obama talks to Lehrer; Romney talks to Obama. Assymetrical. It’s as though Obama thinks there’s a judge who is going to decide this. Romney keeps looking at Obama. Classic primate, mammalian move. He’s sending nonverbals he’s going to solve this himself.
And I’m an Obama supporter!
Weird slip up by Obama – reducing v. increasing deficit. Under stress opposites become more available to consciousness; gradation disappears.
Obama continues to lose the eyeball war. Far less time looking at Romney. Common when amygdala is fired up. Sends a submission signal.
Now Obama nodding in agreement to Romney.
Now Obama smirking. Many submission signals here.
Look at the split screen. Romney keeps head tilted back so he appears to look down. When looking at Romney Obama keeps head tilted forward so his eyes make him appear to look up.
You’d think Obama was 6 inches shorter.
Again Obama continues to appeal to Lehrer. Why? Ignore him. Talk to Romney. Say “you” not “he”
That husky tone to Obama’s voice is caused by swelling of the vocal chords; stress hormones lead to edema. This is an evolutionary adaptation to communicate anxiety. Not helpful here.
Obama’s prefrontal cortex not doing as well. His sequencing and detailed support of points is not as good as Romneys. Stress hormones turn off prefrontal cortex in order to release limbic lobe – this prevents nuanced responses and makes you default to tried-and-true evolutionary strategies. Like running.
Again Romney head up, Obama head down. Romney smiling, Obama grimacing. Romney looking down, Obama looking up. These nonverbals are coursing into the central nervous systems of viewers across the country and communicating that Romney is winning.
Romney looking at Obama, Obama looking at Lehrer. Like when a losing football team on a close call looks at the ref.
Another minor nonverbal: Obama keeps widening eyes, showing whites above and below the iris. This is a classic Ekmanian fear face. This triggers the amygdalae of viewers and makes them want to avoid Obama (through evolution and Pavlovian conditioning – avoid fear faces).
Romney just took over from Lehrer. Again, great nonverbals. Told Lehrer how to do his job, steamrolled over his objections. Classic alpha behavior. And I can’t stand Romney!
Obama with the head down again? Seriously? Stop!
Writing also communicates prefrontal weakness – he needs notes to remember his points.
Interesting move to convert economic problem into a moral problem by Romney.
Will Obama dispute this? Something of a no-win situation unless you call bullshit or turn it on its head. Obama in defensive posture.
Oh snap! Tells Lehrer he’s going to cut subsidies to PBS. Very aggressive. Consistent with theme of night.
What’s the strategic consideration behind Obama refusing to mention Bush’s name. Is he Voldemort?
Obama geeking out.
2.5 dollars down versus 1 dollar up whaaaaa?
Oh my, I’m taking the SATs again. No, I’m rehashing the SATs after walking out with someone who got the hard questions again. What is Obama doing?
Obama says sorry.
“You’ve been president four years… you’ve been president four years…” clever contemptuous move here, as though being President four years is a bad thing.
The nonverbals are out of control. Romney thinks he’s slamming the guy, and Obama is the quarterback who just threw a pick six and is getting reamed out by the offensive coordinator.
Obama just gave his question response time to Romney. Romney took it. Schoolyard bully. Lehrer has to give Obama permission to take it back.
A visitor from Mars watching this with no volume says Romney is President today, Obama is the losing challenger.
Obama’s biggest dig at Romney – “he hasn’t identified which ones they are” – is passive aggressive. Romney has been aggressive aggressive from the start. If we’re monkeys, Romney is winning. Does Romney even believe in monkeys?
Obama seems to be calming down.
Again with the head down, sullen upturned face for Obama. I’m going to stop pointing this out until it changes.
Obama just had a forced slow blink. That’s primary motor cortex overriding brainstem. He’s aware of how his sympathetic nervous system is doing.
Lehrer has to interject in Obama’s subtle implications about Romney’s medicare plan and say “and you don’t support that.” Trying to crisp up his responses.
Obama’s hoarse voice has gone away. Edema of vocal cords subsiding. Due to less extravasation of plasma from vessels around throat. Due to less epinephrine. Due to less amygdala output to sympathetic nervous system. Maybe he likes losing? Let’s watch to see what happens to head position.
Obama’s eyes are narrower. Nonverbals of fear going down.
Regulation is essential – Mitt Romney.
Wow. Never thought I’d hear that as a clear opening line.
BTW, Romney’s verbal tick where he repeats very rapidly the first consonant of a word is not a stutter. It’s an affectation to buy his prefontal cortex time to sequence his response.
Lehrer’s first aggression of night. “No, let’s not” to Romney’s offer of going over his time.
Obama has slowed his pace, more Duchenne’s, seems honestly amused. Cortisol down. Dopamine up. Serotonin stabilizing. Less reward prediction error. We should see prefrontal cortex come back online. Sentence complexity will increase. Argument complexity will increase.
And now a real switch. Romney looks away from Obama, to the viewer’s left, rolls his eyes, looks up. Nonverbals of taking a hit.
This is a real monkey showdown now.
Now look at Obama – glaring at Romney.
Question: will viewers who’ve had Obama’s submission signals pumping into their amygdalae for an hour realize there’s a shift going on? Or are they all watching Honey Boo Boo?
Obama head buried in podium as Romney looks at him (for old time’s sake). If I’m Obama’s debate guru I take away his memo pad and his pen next debate.
Who approved Obama’s smirkyface?
Now Romney with a full-on non-Duchenne’s smile on his face as he licks his lips as Obama gets into his wheehouse: why Obamacare makes sense. Obama calm, slow, sequenced, historical, wistful, proud. Looking directly at Camera. Speaking to viewer. Pouring nonverbals of parasympathetic tone into the heartland viewer. Coming around an hour too late, but still.
Remember when I said Obama’s prefrontal was coming back now that stress hormones are down? Look at him sequencing his thoughts.
And again – Obama puts Lehrer down, steals Romney’s time, takes more than his fair share. This is what people want in leaders (but won’t say)
Look at Obama gloating in his first huge Duchenne’s of the evening as Lehrer tells him he stole time.
And now Obama with a quick zinger putting Romney down. He’s feeling way more aggression now. Serotonin tone normalized. Low punishment errors. Dopamine probably up, looking for opportunities. Let’s keep our ears peeled for a display of thinking on his feet.
Romney citing McKinsey? Jesus, who approved that? They’re practically Bain!
Obama just can’t stop tattling on Romney going over to Lehrer with his eyes. Stop!
Look at Obama’s parasympathetic kicked all in. Acting like he’s got Romney where he wants him. Listen to the tone – ending on low notes (dominance) not high notes (submission).
And now Romney head down, taking notes, nodding in agreement. Total tide-turn for the nonverbals here. Obama ending winning.
Look at the long sequencing of ideas by Obama. Prefrontal in the fullness of its wonder.
BTW part of the prefrontal story is that the thalamus is looping information through the apical dendrites of prefrontal pyramidal cells, just looping it around and around, in those famous thalamocortical loops, and keeping these ideas in play for long periods to allow him to explore nuance. Not possible under stress.
Obama: “let me say just one last thing” – forget the idea. What he’s communicating is prefrontal is up, stress is down, limbic is under control, amygdala is off. He’s dominant.
And Romney now pointing out that he “agrees” with President. Again, submission.
Romney thinks he’s got a good grip on something here.
The wonder of private health care. He knows this. He’s Bain.
Romney is just slamming Obamacare, but it’s a useless point, that ship has sailed, so in a way he’s still playing into the story that Obama won and he lost. Not a good move. Sour grapes are not presidential.
Obama still can’t take his eyes off Jim Lehrer.
If I’m debate guru, this gets fixed next debate. Obama must look directly at Romney and say “you” >50% of the time, not at moderator and say “he”. Not good. Not how you win fights in the animal kingdom.
Romney runs over Lehrer again. This is last debate Lehrer moderates. What did he expect?
Bad move for Romney “it could be any number. Make up a number. $25,000. $50,000.” – um, Mitt, that’s a huge difference to most of us. Poor empathy. A colleague today asked me if I thought Romney might have Aspergers. Close – but no appetite for details.
Lehrer to Romney “that’s a terrific segue to our next category” What?
For only second time I can remember (of course I’ve been typing. And eating) Obama says “since I’ve been in Oval Office.” Why not remind us of this more often. As president… as president” there should be more chest thumping.
Obama trying to sell that redistribution (equality) enhances freedom. I’m not a republican, but I went to college. Equality versus Freedom is one of the great dichotomies in political science. Everyone knows that equality does not increase freedom. Why bother trying to reframe a core political truism?
And Romney plays (very subtly) the pro-life card and then (somewhat overtly) the God card. Can’t go too far on that one since his God told him we came from outer space.
BTW, are Mormons big on NASA?
That could be a silver lining to a Romney Presidency. Let’s go find our planets!
Romney compliments Obama’s education policy. Nice. Obama doesn’t rub it in. Dumb.
And now Obama is geeking out again. Why?
Comment From A.R.

more important to keep eye contact or formulate next response?

Comment From A.R.

also smirkyface > smugface any day.

To AR: Well, if your prefrontal cortex is on fire you don’t need to write to formulate your response. You keep eye contact while formulating. Its a neurological point, not a political one.
To AR: I always wondered what the difference was between smirky and smug.
And now Obama’s crossed over into too much prefrontal, not getting enough signal from limbic. Totally over-sequencing his ideas. Emotion is gone.
Comment From A.R.

smirky – what obama does when he’s smiling broadly while looking down and writing. he finds something amusing about what Romney is saying and it’s comes off as pretty condescending

yeah. It’s a self-reassuring move. It’s designed for internal consumption – that’s why it’s done when facing away from audience.
Comment From A.R.

Smug: The face Romney has when he’s trying to portray himself as “pleasant but in control”, looking over at Obama as he speaks

Aha! I had to wait 44 years to find this out? Thank you.
Full Duchenne’s from Obama when he hears debate is over and Lehrer totally mismanaged it.
Comment From A.R.

And at the same point….so Romney so smug!

Dominance-proving over, Romney ends with cognitive assertion that he is a collaborator, cooperator. Good move – people feel the nonverbal dominance but describe the verbal collaboration. I like it. An oldie but a goody. And again, I’m not voting for him.
Obama gets in his first good zinger at minute 89!
Way to wait for your moment Barack!
Obama does not end with a point about cooperation. He busts out a set piece that would have been good much, much earlier. His best set piece of the night.
“Part of being a leader is being able to describe exactly what you intend to do” – Obama.
A fine final display of sequencing, but terrible time management by Obama here. Lehrer is oing to interrupt him.
Lehrer is trying to interrupt him.
Closing statements. Obama up.
Fatherly pride in Detroit’s fatherly pride for its cars. Good nonverbals.
Why not put this up front?
I think Obama just tried to say fair shake but couldn’t.
Obama admits flaws. Ends with anticlimax. I couldn’t have written a better anticlimax if I’d worked all day. And he did it off the top of his head. Love to see the transcript. Says he didn’t do a good job, but if you vote for him again he’ll work just as hard. What?
Romney up. A shitload of empty promises. But then some apparently frank talk. Straight at camera whole time.
Comment From A.R.

Thought Obama should have been straight into camera the whole time. Made a living on it in previous debates/speeches. Romney closes with 2 straight minutes of direct eye contact.

Now scaring the shit out of Florida with this medicare fearmongering. Are we in backwards world?
It’s over.
Obama out from podium first, shakes hands at Romney’s podium, a good move.
Rachel Maddow doesn’t know who won? She knows who won. Obama was calm and professorial? Not for the first 30 minutes. I’m voting Obama, but I say this was a bad night for him. G’night!
 See my morning-after Chris Matthews-inspired follow-up here.

About Peter Freed, M.D.

I am a psychiatrist (psychopharmacology and psychotherapy) specializing in the so-called "personality disorders," particularly narcissistic and borderline personality disorders. I was a Fellow and then an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia from 2004- 2011. I am currently in private practice in NYC.

View all posts by Peter Freed, M.D.

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