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Audience Perceptions of Background Nonverbal Behaviors Displayed by Candidates in Televised Political Debates
Unformatted Document Text:  Background Behaviors: 10 respectful and appropriate than when moderate or no disagreement was displayed in the background. In other words, the speaker benefited when his opponent showed constant disagreement. Why would this occur? Perhaps, a speaker who is able to keep from fighting back or from getting flustered or angry in the face of a rude opponent seems especially respectful and appropriate to audience members. Whatever the case, these results are consistent with previous research indicating that debaters who are confronted with negative attack strategies tend to benefit, perhaps because voters frown upon such negative styles (Schrott & Lanoue, 1992). The results are also consistent with a study by Beatty and Kruger (1978) which found that, when an audience identified with a heckled speaker, the speaker was more effective. Finally, with regard to this study’s research question, the speaker did not appear to benefit when his opponent showed moderate disagreement. That is, the speaker was not rated as significantly more appropriate and respectful when his opponent displayed moderate disagreement than when he displayed no disagreement. What are the implications of these findings? According to Wiemann (1977), competent communicators are able to choose the right behaviors in order to accomplish their goals. At the same time, they are able to maintain the face of others within the constraints of the situation. This conceptualization implies that, in addition achieving their objectives (e.g., winning a debate), competent communicators behave respectfully and appropriately. The present study suggests that, although debaters may try to gain an advantage by attempting to communicate when it is not their turn, such intrusions, even when silent, may backfire on the intruding debater. This study and others suggest that such intrusions are not only associated with negative ratings of the intruder, they tend to benefit the speaking opponent, especially when the intrusions are constant. One exception is that suspicious audiences may view speakers as more deceptive when there is moderate background disagreement (Seiter, 2001). However, considering that moderate disagreement is also associated with higher deceptiveness rating for the background debater, this study and others suggest that debaters may be best advised to refrain from showing any disagreement during their opponents’ speeches.

Authors: Seiter, John.
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background image
Background Behaviors: 10
respectful and appropriate than when moderate or no disagreement was displayed in the
background. In other words, the speaker benefited when his opponent showed constant
disagreement. Why would this occur? Perhaps, a speaker who is able to keep from fighting back
or from getting flustered or angry in the face of a rude opponent seems especially respectful and
appropriate to audience members. Whatever the case, these results are consistent with previous
research indicating that debaters who are confronted with negative attack strategies tend to
benefit, perhaps because voters frown upon such negative styles (Schrott & Lanoue, 1992). The
results are also consistent with a study by Beatty and Kruger (1978) which found that, when an
audience identified with a heckled speaker, the speaker was more effective.
Finally, with regard to this study’s research question, the speaker did not appear to benefit
when his opponent showed moderate disagreement. That is, the speaker was not rated as
significantly more appropriate and respectful when his opponent displayed moderate
disagreement than when he displayed no disagreement.
What are the implications of these findings? According to Wiemann (1977), competent
communicators are able to choose the right behaviors in order to accomplish their goals. At the
same time, they are able to maintain the face of others within the constraints of the situation. This
conceptualization implies that, in addition achieving their objectives (e.g., winning a debate),
competent communicators behave respectfully and appropriately. The present study suggests
that, although debaters may try to gain an advantage by attempting to communicate when it is not
their turn, such intrusions, even when silent, may backfire on the intruding debater. This study
and others suggest that such intrusions are not only associated with negative ratings of the
intruder, they tend to benefit the speaking opponent, especially when the intrusions are constant.
One exception is that suspicious audiences may view speakers as more deceptive when there is
moderate background disagreement (Seiter, 2001). However, considering that moderate
disagreement is also associated with higher deceptiveness rating for the background debater, this
study and others suggest that debaters may be best advised to refrain from showing any
disagreement during their opponents’ speeches.


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