Why Trump is prone to interrupting Clinton: psychology behind the First Presidential Debate

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First Presidential Debate

In the First Presidential Debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, journalists reported that Trump interrupted Clinton 51 times, whereas she interrupted him 17 times.

Trump’s behavior cannot be solely attributed to his personality. In fact, many women felt that the whole debate just reminded them the experience from men daily, in the office and beyond.

So why are men more likely to interrupt women? In a study published in Journal of Language and Social Psychology, researchers answered the question.

The study was conducted at George Washington University. Forty participants (20 men) had 3-min conversations with trained male and female communication partners.

Researchers transcribed and coded 80 short conversations for language use, such as questions, interruptions, intensive adverbs, personal pronouns, and self-references.

They found that when speaking with a female partner, participants interrupted more than when speaking with a male partner.

For example, when male speakers talked with a female partner, they were likely to break into her turn and took over the conversation, regardless of whether the interruption was successful or not.

This is just like what Trump did to Hillary in First Presidential Debate: he interrupted her and tried to take over the debate, regardless of whether he could be successful.

The phenomenon is consistent with a previous finding that showed women are the more interrupted gender.

One interpretation is that speakers treated female partners as subordinate in conversation by interrupting. Male partners, on the other hand, were not treated as subordinate in conversations.

Researchers suggest that interruptions can be used to display or gain dominance. A man may see a conversation as a competitive game, whereas a woman may see a conversation as collaboration and give spaces for interruptions.


Citation: Hancock AB, Benjamin AR. (2014). Influence of Communication Partner’s Gender on Language. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, published online. doi: 10.1177/0261927X14533197.
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