During the second presidential debate, both candidates tried to press beyond their allotted two-minute response windows. But as in the first showdown, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton more than Clinton interrupted Trump.

“Please allow her to respond,” co-moderator Anderson Cooper told Trump at one point. “She didn’t talk while you talked.”

Clinton agreed, asserting she hadn’t yet cut him off.

“Because you have nothing to say,” Trump countered.

This pattern reflects a stubborn social norm. Society’s top interrupters are men, according to study after study. The most-interrupted sex, meanwhile, is women (though women talk over other women more than men talk over women, research shows).


Adrienne Hancock, a linguist at George Washington University in the nation’s capital, watched a mix of 20 men and 20 women converse for her 2014 research. She found that, when a man’s conversational partner was female, he talked over her an average of 2.1 times during three minutes of dialogue. When his partner was male, the number fell to 1.8.


In a casual setting — say, happy hour — interruptions can convey intimacy or support (“you’re so right!”). Amid an argument or a tense debate, though, interruption (or lack thereof) signals strategy. The interrupter seeks to display dominance, Hancock said, while the conversationalist who waits their turn wants to project civility and control over their emotions.

Trump's misperception that Clinton received more time to speak also stems from gender differences. CNN Politics crunched the numbers, and on Monday we learned Trump had actually spoken slightly more than his opponent.


The Republican nominee talked for 40 minutes, 10 seconds, according to the network, while Clinton dominated 39 minutes, five seconds of airtime.

Clinton might have appeared to talk more because, well, she said more. Hancock, who studies the speech patterns of men and women, said women tend to employ more complex sentences than men. The debate matched her real-world observations. Nobody can say for sure why that is, but some sociologists say women have to work harder to seem competent.


“Hillary used much longer sentences with clauses,” Hancock noted. “Trump used short sentences. He repeated himself a lot.”

Some viewers perceived Trump’s objections as a fight against moderators who questioned him unfairly. (The moderators maintain they were tough on both candidates. Co-moderator Martha Raddatz, for example, asked Clinton: “The FBI said that there were 110 classified emails that were exchanged, eight of which were top secret, and that it was possible hostile actors did gain access to those emails. You don’t call that extremely careless?")

Others saw a man unaccustomed to interruptions.

When author Lindy West learned of the time breakdown, she wrote a tweet that went viral:

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