Neuroself Live Blogs the Third Presidential Debate

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Neuroself Live-Blogs the Third Presidential Debate
Monday October 22, 2012
Well, here we go. I’m watching on – where else? –

Fox just interviewed a female graduate student about how she was approaching the debate: “I’m going to listen to what they both have to say and then make my decision.”Isn’t that just Fox News’s tagline?

So to toot my own horn I called the winner/loser/tier (sp?) of the last three debates in the first 20 minutes based on autonomic nervous system functioning. Will this trick work again? If so it wouldn’t be surprising. It’s common wisdom in psychotherapy and policing alike that the willingness of someone to talk depends on the autonomic nervous system status of the questioner. I’d just shift that to autonomic nervous system of the candidate determines the willingness of the viewer to vote.

So here’s what I’ll be looking for and will try to make my call by 9:20 – the point being that content doesn’t matter, nor do late-breaking zingers.
1. Eye contact: who looks the longest at the other? He’s the one who’s winning.
2. “You” versus “he”: Obama made a huge mistake in talking to Jim Lehrer in the first debate. (Is anyone still talking to Jim Lehrer?) This left him sounding like he was whining – “he, he, he”. This needs to become a direct attack – “you, you, you.” Let’s count who’s you-ing the most.
3. Mouth moistness: blood (and plasma) moves to muscles during high sympathetic tone. It moves to the internal organs and mucus membranes in parasympathetic tone. Mouth dryness is therefore a sign of sympathetic tone – whoever’s mouth is dryer is losing.

4. Sentence complexity: sentence complexity is governed by the prefrontal cortex, which orders, sequences, and prioritizes ideas. PFC is turned off during stress – the neurons literally have cortisol receptors that depolarize them during stress. This forces the organism back on tried and true evolutionary strategies. Sentence complexity is therefore a marker of parasympathetic tone.

5. Note taking: Again a soft sign of poor PFC functioning. A pad and pencil is a “peripheral brain” – that the PFC needs when it can’t retain its own ideas for long. If you’re taking notes, you’re nervous.

6. Impulsivity: on the flip side of anxiety is anger. During a fight you need to respond quickly to threats – duck, punch, parry. This means you require less information to make a decision in order to act quickly. This causes impulsivity – usually caused by low serotonin. This can lead to mis-speaking, overt displays of aggression, which can be seen as bullying, petty, insecure. Let’s see if Romney can hold himself in. I heard he was playing Jenga backstage – that’s basically the Mormon equivalent of Call of Duty, so he may be pretty pumped.

Watching Bob Schiefer from the back. He looks like he’s sitting in study hall. Unmoving, shifting slightly in his seat.

Last things to look for as soft signs of aggression – who touches who first when they come out to greet, who’s hand goes on who’s shoulder. And do they look at their opponent first or second? In primate fights monkeys don’t look at other monkeys unless they want aid. Will Obama look at Bob first? Or Mitt?

It goes without saying that this debate is going to be seen by 3 people given MNF and the 7th game of SF-St. Louis

The audience has taken a vow of silence? Isn’t that a Roman Catholic concept?

Both men looked at eachother first. Good sign for them.

Obama lets Romney sit first. Power move. Another good sign.

Cuban missile crisis was closest we ever came to nuclear war per Bob. Heard of Nagasaki?

Libya question first. Good job Bob.

Romney giving a fumbling, hesitant, fractured answer as though he’s remembering what he memorized out of order. Keeps interrupting sentences in mid-stream with a blurb he remembers he was supposed to say. Not clear.

Obama giving a far more coherent answer, summarizing his foreign policy achievements, then gets to Libya. So far the prefrontal cortex war is going to Obama.

Obama on the split screen still looks like he’s simulating an aggressive person. LIke he memorized “maintain eye contact.” Romney seems quite pissed.

Okay -this is getting very interesting. I’ve been in sections like this in college. Romney is the legacy republican putting forth a confident, smug view of the world he’s been hearing for years around the dinner table from his financier father’s friends. Obama is the first-to-the-Ivies democrat who is incredulous at the bad logic he’s hearing; everything is far more nuanced than his classmate thinks. But Romney doesn’t care about intellectual validity. He cares about certainty and a sense of understanding things. I don’t think many Americans in the heartland will resonate with the Obama style.

That said, both men are non-anxious, now Obama is angry (in an intellectualized way) and Romney remains as aggressive as he was at the Al Davis dinner. This debate will not be won on autonomic status, but on points. Both sides will claim victory, legitimately. I predict no change in the polls, no bounces, despite Obama looking quite confident for the the second debate in a row.

Why does Obama keep looking at Romney like he’s lining up a golf shot?

I feel like Obama is singing to himself “I know you are but what am I.” I think he’s just incredulous that a guy like Romney can trot out one howler after another. But Obama, you went to Columbia. This is how these guys roll. Its what makes them so successful.

Obama lining up another golf shot. Stop it!

No change in autonomic nervous system status for either man, no change in testosterone or serotonin in either man. Low sweat, moist mouths, slow blinks, steady eye contact, good sequencing of thoughts, speaking in full sentences and paragraphs now. Of the two, Obama has the forced, memorized facial expressions of a natural beta.

Schieffer is quietly rocking it as usual. My order so far: Schieffer > Raddatz >> Crowley >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Lehrer

Romney has pivoted to economy.

To get a bit subtler about facial expressions, Romney is raising his eyebrows frequently as though teaching in a caring way a young mentee. This is the behavior of a benevolent elder. Obama does not raise eyebrows as though teaching – but rather when surprised by his own ideas. This is the behavior of a talented student. In split screen, Romney seems to be higher status.

Obama has pivoted to energy.

Obama missing a chance to challenge Romney. Romney is RIGHT NEXT TO HIM and he has slipped into saying “Governor Romney… Governor Romney.” Big missed opportunity.

In the split screen look at Obama’s flat forehead as he gazes at Romney. This means that cranial nerve 7 is not animating the face with nonverbal dominance signals. This studied eye contact, not automatic. I still say he’s feeling submissiveness signals from his limbic system, hypothalamus, feeding off Romney’s confidence, despite cognitively rejecting Romney’s legitimacy.

FINALLY Obama speaks to Romney “when you were governor small business ranks 48th.” YOU! YOU! YOU! Thank god.

“Governor Romney when you were asked by teachers…. when you were asked about class sizes…” that’s good rhetoric. Keep that going and you can regain the alpha position.

Romney taking credit for #1 schools in nation. Drives Obama nuts, since the legwork for that was done before he was governor.

Obama is looking at Bob S. cracking up at Romney’s bad math like the geek in the front row of math class laughing at the quarterback who thinks the x axis is vertical. I don’t think this plays well.

Obama’s refrain: “The math simply doesn’t work.” What happened to Clinton’s vastly superior “arithmetic.”

Obama has by far the best line of his 3 debates. After Romney counts how many ships the US Navy has and finds it lacking, Obama says “Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets. We have these things that airplanes can land on. They’re called aircraft carriers. We have these things that go underwater. They’re called submarines. This isn’t about counting. We’re not playing battleship.”

San Francisco 7, St. Louis 0, top of the 5th. This debate is over – it’s going to come out as a tie where each man represented himself very well. Switch to the game.

Bears 10, Lions 0, almost end of 2nd quarter. That means that 3 of the 4 cities with teams playing tonight are democratic.

Romney tries to school Obama about Israel being more important than the Arab lands. Obama comes back with a deep, heartfelt rebuttal meant to expose Romney as a craven amoral hack.

Obama “who’s going to be credible to all parties involved?” This is a good point, but he could try to analogize it to something people could agree with.

Schieffer great question about Israel telling him their bombers are on the way. Romney great response “we’d have discussed it thoroughly before then.” Schieffer tries to switch to Obama, Romney just talks over him, Obama mounts a failed protest, Romney wins, everyone at table defers to him.

Obama at minute 60 – 60 – confronts Romney directly over foreign policy etchasketching. Why, why, why, why, why did this not come out in the first response? Everyone is watching San Francisco Saint Louis now.

Obama going on a long intellectualized point about why it helps grief to kill Osama Bin Laden. Not visceral. Romney looks condescending.

Bob Schieffer pwns Romney when he attempts to steal time.

Obama lining up his fifth putt of the night.

Obama really hitting his stride here at minute 70. If Obama’s debate performances were term papers, and I were his TA, I’d tell him to cut the first 60 minutes and begin with what he says at minute 61. I don’t know what stops him from leading with his strongest point.

If I’m not mistaken, Schieffer just referred to a doctor in Pakistan as helping us to “get Obama Bin Laden.”

Just found it online – the best exchange of the night: (

ROMNEY: Our Navy is old — excuse me, our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now at under 285. We’re headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947.

OBAMA: I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.

Well, Matt Cain is simply destroying St. Louis. Still a shut out.

Obama flexing his China-busting cred.

Obama doing a nice job on this China question. Calm, confident. Still not addressing Romney directly very often. Romney looking down and taking notes. Is is possible that some of his bravado is deserting him? Or is he just wondering who’s winning the ballgame?

Romney with a nice paranoid portrait of China as thieves and cheaters, currency manipulators.

Obama at minute 82 “Governor Romney you’re right that you’re familiar with shipping jobs overseas. You’re the one who sent them.” Or something less snappy.

I think Obama remains fundamentally bewildered and incredulous that Romney is so comfortable lying and distorting his record.

At this very late date Obama scoring some points, Romney head down writing after being told by the President, to his face, that he is airbrushing history and distorting his record.

Obama lining up his last putt of the night.

Cain is out of the game with a 7-0 lead.

Obama summing up. Looking straight at camera. Seems pretty good if a bit halting. No real passion. Seems rather memorized.

Obama last line: “I will listen to your voices, I will fight for your families.”

Romney seems less memorized. Also staring straight into camera. Skipping foreign policy and going straight to economics. Proceeds to make bland promises with no supporting data. “We need strong leadership. I’d like to be that leader.”

Schieffer closes with words from his mom: “go vote – it makes you feel big and strong.” Romney and Obama appear to be on the verge of making out as they talk and congratulate one another. A wash, basically. Goodnight – and go San Francisco!


  1. Absolutely fascinating.


    9:58 Bears 10, Lions 0, almost end of 2nd quarter. That means that 3 of the 4 cities with teams playing tonight are democratic.

    So which one’s a dictatorship? ;-)

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