Ted Cruz is unpopular among his colleagues and former associates, and many of them have been very vocal about their dislike. Salon even called Ted Cruz “the most hated man in congress,” going on to cite verbal attacks against the Texas senator from within the GOP itself. Paul Ryan, now Republican Speaker of the House, was quoted as saying that the hostility against Cruz is “palpable,” and Representative Peter King accused him of perpetuating “a fraud with the people.”
The dislike of Ted Cruz goes well beyond his political associates. Psychology Today reports that Craig Mazin, screenwriter and the former Princeton roommate of Senator Ted Cruz, called Cruz “creepy” and “a huge a****le” in a Washington Post interview. Mazin has also taken to Twitter repeatedly to share his thoughts and feelings about Ted Cruz.
So, what gives?
Richard E. Cytowic M.D., a neurologist, professor and contributing writer, tells Psychology Today that he believes he knows why so many people find Ted Cruz so off-putting. Cytowic writes that he is among those who has a difficult time looking at senator Ted Cruz’s face, despite his way with words and “sharp legal mind.” According to the doctor, he’s viscerally and automatically unsettled by Ted Cruz’ face and ultimately left uneasy by what he refers to as the senator’s “atypical expressions.”
Indeed, it is precisely these “atypical expressions” so often displayed by Ted Cruz that Doctor Cytowic believes to be the problem. He explains that humans begin to learn to read faces as soon as they are born. Babies instinctively respond to smiles and imitate other people’s faces from the start.
“During the first months of life, brain activity readings trace the development of their [infants’] body maps. These brain maps allow an infant to recognize similarities between self and other—the foundation on which all social cognition rests, especially trust.”
Ultimately, humans have evolved over countless generations to read faces instantaneously, automatically and largely unconsciously. This is how we know who to trust, who’s a friend and who’s not. Over a million or so years of mastering the art of reading faces, people have gotten good at it. We are generally able to tell a fake smile from a real one (hint: real smiles start at the eyes), and we’re adept at noting discrepancies between facial expression and the words people say and/or the tone of their voice.
“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.”
Doctor Cytowic writes that he has “rarely, if ever, seen a conventional smile from Ted Cruz.” With a conventional/natural smile, the corners of the mouth go up, something that’s easy to fake as the muscles surrounding the mouth are voluntary. In addition to the upturned lips, a conventional smile also features some involuntary muscle movement around the eyes. Specifically, the eyes narrow and crinkle at the outside corners. This subtle but crucial facial movement is incredibly difficult to fake.
Ted Cruz, almost utterly without regard to what he’s saying or the message he’s trying to convey, doesn’t portray this familiar, trustworthy expression according to Cytowic. Rather, his mouth bends down, the outside of his eyebrows, too. It is this typical “Ted Cruz face” that the doctor calls “something so atypical that it disturbs me.”
The doctor goes on to say that downturned facial expressions, such as the one so commonly displayed by Ted Cruz, typically signal disgust or disagreeableness. Cytowic also writes that he’s unsure if Senator Cruz is even aware of the extent to which his words and body language are utterly at odds with one another, adding that such facial expressions are “rare” when someone’s involved in the act of trying to “win people over.”
Finally, the doctor calls into question the almost-perpetual “O” mouth that photographers of Ted Cruz nearly always seem to capture in pictures. It’s something that Cytowic finds inexplicable, but he does note that it is part of the Ted Cruz “emoting face,” and it demonstrates that he is “determined, irritated, or above it all.” However, like the rest of his facial expressions, this open “O” is atypical according to Doctor Cytowic. In a typical case, a speaker would be expected to push their mouth into a pout while expressing such emotions. Ted Cruz simply does not.
Doctor Cytowic tells Psychology Today that he finds it difficult to put into words what he (and many others) find so “unsettling” about looking at the face of Ted Cruz, aside from the fact that his expressions are atypical and contrary to a million years of human evolution. However, the doctor (who says he is not a Democrat, reports the GW Hatchet) does confess that the standard Ted Cruz facial expression “leaves him cold.”
[Image Courtesy Of Win McNamee/Getty Images]