For most people reacting to last week’s presidential debate, their first thought was probably not about who made the best arguments or told the most truths. Rather it was likely deciding who won.

The answer this time around was unusually definitive: Mitt Romney, by virtually every account and measure.

But in presidential debates — and the vice presidential version, which takes place on Thursday — does there need to be a winner?

Alan Schroeder, a professor at Northeastern University, says that the name “debate” naturally suggests a contest. But Schroeder says that broadcast networks that televised the first debate in 1960 never intended to establish an atmosphere of competition.