Impression Management in Televised Debates: The Effect of Background Nonverbal Behavior on Audience Perceptions of Debaters’ Likeability

Document Type

Conference Paper

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Mass Communication Division at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association


International Communication Association

Publication Date



This study examined whether a debater's background nonverbal behavior affected audience perceptions of her and her opponent's likeability. Students watched one of four versions of a televised debate. In each, while the speaking debater appeared on the main screen, subscreens displayed her opponent's background nonverbal behavior. In one version, the nonspeaking debater displayed a neutral expression, whereas in the others she displayed occasional disagreement, nearly constant disagreement, or both agreement and disagreement. After viewing the debates, students rated the debaters' likeability. Analysis indicated that background behavior influenced perceptions of the nonverbal communicator but not of the speaking debater.

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