Study Measured Gender Differences in Emotional Responses of Viewers of the 2016 Presidential Debates

A new study finds that there were major differences in emotional responses from men and women who watched the 2016 presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

A research team from Georgia State University and Arizona State University used a novel technique to assess the facial expressions of viewers who watched the debates. The researchers recorded viewers with webcams as they watched the debate on desktop computers. The researchers then used facial-recognition software for a frame-by-frame analysis of emotional expression. The technology features a facial expression coding system that tracked 20 unique movements such as furrowing the brow, wrinkling the nose or frowning — markers of particular emotions like surprise, sadness, anger or disgust.

The results showed that the impact of emotions was stronger for women viewers and that gender issues were more important for them as well.

“Women expressed internalizing emotions like sadness twice as often as men,” said Sarah Allen Gershon, an associate professor of political science at Georgia State and co-author of the paper. “Men expressed externalizing emotions like anger and disgust more often. There were also differences in when men and women expressed these emotions. Our data indicated that women’s expressions of sadness and men’s expressions of anger increased during periods when Clinton spoke more.”

Dr. Gershon noted that “as women showed more expressions of fear, their ratings of Trump’s performance decreased significantly. However, as men expressed more fear, their evaluations of the candidates’ performance barely budged.”

The article “Gender Differences in Emotional Reactions to the 2016 Presidential Debates,” was published in the journal Political Behavior. It may be accessed here.


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