President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden met on Oct. 22 for the final debate in the 2020 election and, like the first debate, it was unusual.

COVID-19 forced social distancing and largely took the studio audience, with their laughter, cheering and booing out of the equation.

What’s more, with norm-breaking interruptions and stealing of speaking time an inherent part of Donald Trump’s debate strategy, the contentious crosstalk between the two candidates and the moderator made long sections of the candidates’ first debate nearly impossible to hear or follow. The threat of having the microphone cut off effectively muted this aggression.

But is what they say as important as we think?

Although news coverage generally focuses on what the candidates say, as a political psychologist who studies nonverbal behavior, I focus less on the rehearsed answers and more on the space between talking points. These moments, when candidates nonverbally – and largely involuntarily – respond to their opposition can be enormously revealing.

In other words, how people listen and react may speak louder than what they say.

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