The List | Maria Scinto | source link
September 28, 2020
Are you all psyched up to hear some presidential debating? As the two candidates get ready to rumble, are you excited to hear what they have to say? Or is your attitude more one of resignation, like it's one more slap from a year that took the gloves off in January and hasn't stopped punching since? Well, if the thought of the upcoming debates doesn't exactly fill you with glee, think about how the candidates themselves might be feeling about what lies ahead.
We talked with body language expert Dr. Reneé Carr, a psychologist and political and corporate advisor, and she took us through a progression of how Joe Biden's attitude towards debating Donald Trump has evolved over the course of his candidacy. She gave a close look to four different video clips covering a time span from February to August (which, in 2020 terms, would be equivalent to about 10 years' worth of ordinary time) and broke it down for us just how Biden is really feeling in each one of them.
In February, Joe Biden was stressed but determined
This past February, Biden appeared on MSNBC and, according to Carr, the candidate "did not hold back," either in his comments or his body language. He was aggressive in his language and adamant in defending himself and his son, Hunter, whom Trump was accusing of having inappropriate business dealings with the Ukraine. The clip shows how Biden "becomes agitated and his body's sympathetic nervous system (SNS) goes into action," with Carr going on to explain that the SNS is what causes the body to go into "fight or flight" mode when it is stressed. She also notes that Biden's heavy breathing is another indicator of the stress he's feeling, but then notes that he composes his thoughts before he "squares his shoulders, straightens his back, and emphatically defends himself."
While Biden does trip up on a few words, Carr says this is common when the SNS is activated, since thoughts are racing but "mind and mouth must slow down enough to coordinate the communication of thoughts" and this tends to make people "stumble their words or even forget their thoughts." Still, she feels that these verbal and physical and cues "reveal Biden's authenticity in this moment," saying "he means what he is saying and his responses are not canned or prepared." Carr says it rings true to her when Biden states "I'm gonna beat this man [Trump] like a drum."
March found Joe Biden feeling very confident
A visit to Ohio found Biden well prepared to deal with his NBC4 interviewer. Carr notes, "his forehead crinkles and his face remains stern as if he is nonverbally speaking with exclamation marks." She adds, "he becomes aggressive when pointing at the interviewer and maintaining eye contact." According to her interpretation, these gestures are part of a prepared response, one meant to "aggressively ... persuade the interviewer to believe him." She says Biden doesn't appear nervous, as "his pupils do not dilate, nor do his eyelids enlarge."
Carr says Biden responds in a more "heartfelt" manner when he talks about those individuals and families negatively impacted by current events and legislation. She sees this in how "his forehead becomes relaxed and his eyes soften as he begins to talk about the lives of people."
Toward the end of the clip, Biden displays yet another emotion, annoyance at Trump's questioning of his age. Carr notes "an insincere smile to deliberately display that he is laughing at Trump's insult," and she says "Biden's lips remain tight and his words are careful but strained as he sarcastically states that Trump is 'in such great shape ... a stable ... genius.'" She says that, in contrast, "Biden views himself as healthy, strong, and stable," something he demonstates by "stand[ing] firm on both of his feet," and by " keep[ing] his hands still and in his pockets. She thinks this stance "conveys a natural confidence."
By July, Joe Biden couldn't take Donald Trump seriously
Biden spoke with NBC News in July, while touring a metal fabricating plant in Pennsylvania, and Carr was struck by how contemptuous Biden sounded while discussing Trump's failure to deal with the pandemic. She says he's also showing his true feelings about the upcoming debate, in that he views it as somewhat of a joke. What she describes as his "less than sincere smile" lets us know that "the actual debate with Trump of which Biden 'can hardly wait' is viewed by Biden as no real debate at all."
Carr feels that Biden is evidently "question[ing] Trump's intelligence and ability to truly engage in an intellectual debate; and is fully confident in his ability to 'beat him [Trump] like a drum.'" She says that the physical cues by which Biden shows his attitude include "literally and physically stick[ing] his tongue in cheek — a subconscious and nonverbal sign that Biden is mocking Trump and that Biden does not really mean what he is verbally saying about Trump's debating skills."
Joe Biden is back in fight mode by August
In late August, Biden appeared on MSNBC responding to some comments House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made regarding the upcoming debates. Biden at first did not know what Pelosi had said, so Carr says he came into the interview in full "SNS-activated 'fight mode,'" noting that he seemed to "physically read[y] himself to be able to take a punch, if Pelosi gives one, while also preparing to maintain an on-air composure during the interview." Once Biden realizes that Pelosi's on his side in agreeing that Trump's not really going to make for much of an opponent, Carr sees him "relax ... and deeply exhale."
Carr sums up Biden's attitude toward the debates by saying that "overall, Biden is authentic in his responses and means what he says unless he is speaking in jest about President Trump's intellectual and debate prowess." She indicates that Biden's fight-ready body and verbal language as well as "his repeated use of certain words or phrases that were once spoken naturally" could possibly be perceived by voters as indicating that he's just giving canned responses, but explains that "in realty, this strategy of repeating himself is a self-soothing and self-pacing defense mechanism, so that Biden does not become too physically or emotionally charged."