It’s Not Just You: A Neurologist Breaks Down Exactly Why We Find Ted Cruz’s Smile So Creepy


Neurologist Dr. Richard E. Cytowic couldn’t help feeling a sense of disgust whenever he saw Sen. Ted Cruz on television. But it wasn’t just his ideas that disturbed him, the scientist couldn’t shake the idea that something about Cruz’s face and the expressions he made are just…off.

It’s not just Cytowic, many people who have had the chance to meet or work with Cruz have described him as “creepy.” A disturbing number of them in fact. But while some of this is due to Cruz’s odd behavior (during college he would go for strolls through the women’s dorm hallways wearing a bathrobe, until freaked out female students complained to his RA) or his morally repugnant ideas about homosexuality, there may be another reason people find the Texas senator so off-putting: His face.

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Being a good neurologist, Cytowic decided to dive into the question of “What’s up with Ted Cruz’s creepy smile?” with clinical detail. Here’s what he said inspired him:

It’s hard to look at Ted Cruz’s face. He’s a brilliant orator with a sharp legal mind. But his expression unsettles me. I know my reaction is visceral and automatic, but as a neurologist it is my business to notice things out of the ordinary and probe them. The Senator’s atypical expressions leave me uneasy.

So what did Cytowic find when he went looking?

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. Grandma may have told you to put on a happy face, but you can’t if it isn’t heartfelt.

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.

In other words, Cruz positively exudes falseness. Our brains, wired as they are to look for signs of honesty, scream out in protest when looking at Cruz. He looks – physically looks – as if he is lying. He appears as if he’s “faking” his smiles. Maybe he is.

Worse still, Cruz’s downturned expressions send signals that he’s experiencing disgust. Like he smelled something foul. That expression is contagious. Our minds respond by triggering the disgust emotion as well, and we apply it to Cruz – whether he wants us to or not.

The whole package is that Cruz makes people have a viscerally negative reaction towards him. It doesn’t help his case, then, that he follows up his cold facial expressions with policy positions that are disgusting in their own right. People often said George W. Bush managed to win votes by convincing people he would be a good guy to have a beer with. Absolutely nobody can say that about Cruz. He may be the current Republican front-runner, but there aren’t many people who seem to genuinely like him.


Feature image via Flickr

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