Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Dr. George R. Goethals
Dr. Kristin M. S. Bezio
Dr. Donelson R. Forsyth
Ninety-three undergraduate students at the University of Richmond were asked to watch, listen to, or read a transcript of the opening statements from the first presidential debate of the Election of 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. Afterwards, participants were asked to recall three notable moments in the debate, both list and identify quotes from each Candidate, and indicate their impressions of each Candidate’s personality. The purpose of my research was twofold: to revisit Dr. James Druckman’s renowned experiment on the first presidential debate of 1960 that concluded that Kennedy won on television and Nixon won on radio, and to see if there is any connection between debate format, how participants process information, and how participants form impressions of a leader’s personality. I hypothesized that individuals who listened to the debate would best process the information in the debate.
While there were not many situations where debate format was statistically significant in how participants processed information, some data suggest that my hypothesis is correct. The most notable contributions of my research include my findings on participants’ impressions of Kennedy and Nixon’s personalities: debate format proved to be statistically significant in how participants formed opinions about each leader’s character. Specifically, data showed that Nixon’s appearance and demeanor negatively affected participants’ impressions of his personality. For example, participants who listened to the debate indicated that Nixon was as clear, competent, and specific as Kennedy, but those who watched the debate rated him much lower on those qualities despite the fact that there logically should be no difference on those traits between television and radio. My research corroborated Druckman’s findings and concludes that debate format and followers’ opinions about a leader’s personality are interconnected. Ultimately, data indicate that in order for followers to listen to a leader, they must first find him or her likeable.
O'Brien, Lauren Haviland, "Liking and Listening: Impression Formation and Information Processing in Presidential Debates" (2020). Honors Theses. 1505.