Why Ted Cruz’s Facial Expression Makes Me Uneasy

It’s hard to look at Ted Cruz’s face. He’s said to be a brilliant orator with a sharp legal mind. But his expression unsettles me. I realize 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.

It’s surprising how many colleagues and former associates say they “loathe” him. A Bush alumnus told The New York Times’ Frank Bruni, “Why do people take such an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? It just saves time.” Former Senate Majority leader Bob Dole says, “Nobody likes him,” while Rep. Peter King sees “malice.” According to The Washington Post, screenwriter Craig Mazin, Cruz’s former Princeton roommate, has called him a “huge asshole,” and “creepy.” He’s tweeted, “Getting emails blaming me for not smothering Ted Cruz in his sleep in 1988.” The distaste for Cruz even extends beyond the U.S.: Germans say Backpfeifengesicht, meaning a face in need of a good punch.

Humans learn to read faces from the day they are born. Infants readily respond to smiles. They imitate others’ facial expressions and gestures. During the first months of life, brain activity readings trace the development of their body maps. These brain maps allow an infant to recognized similarities between self and other–the foundation on which all social cognition rests, especially trust.

Automatically and more quickly than conscious reflection could ever manage, we weigh whether we like a new face or distrust the person behind it.

Our stone-age ancestors learned to read faces and rapidly tell friend from foe. While we live in a far different environment, we still possess the same stone-age brain as our distant relatives. Like them, we judge instantly. Automatically and more quickly —> Read More