A Neurologist Explains Why You Hate Ted Cruz’s Face

Ted Cruz's face defies explanation.

There’s a scientific reason you can’t stand the very sight of Ted Cruz

As Frank Bruni, a Bush alumnus, told the New York Times,  “Why do people take such an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? It just saves time.”

The Texas Senator’s former college roommate, Craig Mazin, from Princeton, says he’s “getting emails blaming [him] for not smothering Ted Cruz in his sleep in 1988.” In fact, stories are circulating from classmates from Cruz’s college days describing the GOP presidential candidate as being “as telegenic as an undertaker.”

Even Germans have a name for Ted Cruz’s unsightly face: Backpfeifengesicht, meaning “a face in good need of a punch.”

A person had to be removed from a Ted Cruz rally because they shouted, “Ted Cruz has a weird face.”

But, why does Ted Cruz’s face stir up emotions in people that make them despise the senator at a glance?

Neurologist Richard E. Cytowic M.D. explored the topic in an article titled “Why Ted Cruz’s Facial Expression Makes Me Uneasy.”

Cytowic explains that humans learn to read faces from the day they are born. Infants are capable of mimicking smiles and facial expressions within a couple of months of their birth, which means reading and understanding human facial expressions is deeply ingrained within us.

Understanding facial expressions were once essential to human survival — judging between an enemy or friend quickly meant life or death. While modern society presents a safer environment and this skill isn’t as essential to our survival as it once was, humans still have the same stone-age brain our ancestors possessed, which means humans are prone to judging instantly. We do judge a book by its cover before consciousness takes over.

Cytowic explains further:

“Automatically and more quickly than conscious reflection could manage, we weigh whether we like a new face or dislike the person behind it. Our social circuits, which are largely emotional, tell us whether to trust a person or not. Given a million years of practice, our brains are good at this.”

So perhaps, it’s this core cognitive skill that makes us recoil at Cruz’s ghastly smile. But what is it exactly about Cruz’s face that is so wrong?

Cytowic believes the answer might lie in the way Cruz’s face expresses his emotions as if his thoughts or feelings don’t match his facial expressions.

Cytowic explains:

“Senator Cruz’s countenance doesn’t shift the way I expect typical faces to move. Human faces can’t help but broadcast what we feel, what we may be thinking, and even what we may intend.”

Even animals can’t help but show their inward thoughts on their face. When a dog is confused, the expression is unmissable with their raised eyebrows, ears pricked up and a half-cocked head. An angry horse will show the whites of their eyes and their teeth and gums. A chimpanzee loving her young will have soft eyes and a slight smile. But for some reason, Ted’s face is incapable of expressing his core emotions outwardly, and perhaps that’s why he seems so freakish to so many. Ted Cruz’s face defies evolution.

The neurologist continues:

“I have rarely, if ever, seen a conventional smile from Senator Cruz. In a natural smile the corners of the mouth go up; these muscles we can control voluntarily as well. But muscles circling the eyes are involuntary only; they make the eyes narrow, forming crow’s feet at the outside corners. Even the Mona Lisa’s smile shows this. The eyes give away one’s game and let us tell forged from genuine smiles.

“No matter the emotional coloring of Senator Cruz’s outward rhetoric, his mouth typically tightens into the same straight line. If it deviates from this, the corners of his mouth bend down, not upwards. The outside of his eyebrows bend down, too, when he emotes, something so atypical that it disturbs me. Typically a person’s eyebrows arch up, as does the corrugator muscle that furrow the forehead.”

Take these pictures of Ted Cruz “smiling” for instance:

Ted Cruz face
Credit left to right: Flickr, Jeff Malet/Malet Photo, Fox News


Our cavemen brains don’t perceive this as a normal “happy” human expression because the muscles orchestrating the face are all wrong in Cruz’s expression.

Cytowic says downturned expressions like Cruz’s usually communicate disgust or disagreement.

Cytowic says:

“…such an expression is rare in the context of public presentations that are meant to win people over. He may well be unaware that the message of his body language is incongruent with his words.”

And there you have it. Even when Cruz is trying to express happiness, satisfaction, or laughter, he looks visibly disgusted. And that’s why you can’t stand Ted Cruz’s face. He’s hard to read, his emotions are inconsistent with his expression and even when he’s supposed to be laughing it comes across as phony.

Featured Image via Flickr/Jamelle Bouie

Like it? Share with your friends!