The Psychological Reason Ron DeSantis' Smile Makes People So Uncomfortable

His attempt at a smile at the Republican debate have some people theorizing that he is actually a robot.

Ron DeSantis, governor, debate, president, smile William Hunton / The Old Major / Shutterstock / demaerre / Canva

The first Republican presidential primary debate took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin last night, and many social media users are sharing what they believed to be the most significant takeaway: Ron DeSantis’ smile (or attempt at a smile). 

The Florida Governor has generated an extensive amount of memes and jabs surrounding his unnerving facial expressions, which make many people claim to make them feel unsettled. 


Ron DeSantis’ smile at the Republican presidential primary debate has left people feeling ‘creeped out.’ 

The presidential candidate, who is 23 points behind the Republican frontrunner and former President, Donald Trump, took the stage on August 23, 2023, with seven other fellow candidates. 

There were several key moments throughout the evening, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie comparing Vivek Ramaswamy’s responses to those generated by ChatGPT and heated discussions about abortion. 

However, by the end of the night, social media platforms erupted with posts targeting DeSantis’ closing statement, notably the awkward smile he flashed the audience. 


“I pledge to you as your President, we will get the job done and I will not let you down,” DeSantis assures Americans, before attempting to give them a friendly smile.



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However, this is where it really all went downhill for DeSantis, as people could not help but notice that his smile was not sincere. 


“I will forever see this clip in my brain when I read the phrase ‘a forced smile,’” one Twitter user shared

“For someone suing Disney he looks an awful lot like a Disney World animatronic here,” another user noted

“Someone didn’t leave Ron plugged in for his update last night,” another user wrote, alluding to the conspiracy that DeSantis is a robot, which only gained more popularity after last night’s debate. 

Others were concerned about DeSantis, theorizing that his smile demonstrated his lack of authenticity and sincerity to the American public. Many people are now asking themselves if he can be trusted should he win the presidential election in 2024. 


DeSantis’ forced smile could infer that he does not believe what he is saying. 

Most communication experts agree that 70-93% of communication is nonverbal, per “lifesize.”

Smiling is a significant tool in nonverbal communication, and establishes a sense of ease and assurance. For example, when you go in for a job interview, you are most likely nervous and on edge. However, if the person conducting your interview greets you with a smile, you may feel more confident and relaxed during the process since they demonstrated a gesture that was intended to feel more at ease. 

It appears that DeSantis was attempting to do the same by smiling at the crowd after the debate. However, since it was apparent that his smile was forced, it backfired terribly. 

Noticing a sincere smile and a fake one may be easier than we think. Smiles that occur naturally, or “true smiles,” happen when the facial muscles, the orbiculanis oculi, and the zygomatic major, are in use, and often occur when we see something that makes us happy. One cannot help but reciprocate a true smile or feel comfortable when someone flashes one in their direction. 


On the contrary, “fake smiles” do not require these muscles and are given when one feels obligated to, such as when they’re at a social gathering and want to make other guests feel at ease around them. These fake smiles have the opposite effect on people, and many of them cannot help but feel unnerved when they see them. 

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Other methods of body language and nonverbal communication are just as important as the way we smile.

According to a study conducted by the National Library of Medicine that focused on determining how trustworthy a person smiling can appear, the appearance of one’s eyes while they are smiling can depict their level of trustworthiness. 

If you are smiling with “red” or “angry” eyes with a forced smile, you will appear to be less trustworthy and deceitful. 


ron desantisPhoto: Hunter Crenian / Shutterstock

Smile aside, a body language analyst claimed DeSantis showed true concern for the debated issues. 

While Ron DeSantis’ smile appeared to be unnerving and left many people distrustful of him, this does not necessarily mean that he will not uphold his said promise and take his job as President seriously. Smiling could very well be a gesture that does not come naturally to DeSantis and genuinely requires effort to do. 


Joe Navarro, the author of “What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People,” and “The Dictionary of Body Language: A Field Guide to Human Behavior,” shared his analysis regarding DeSantis’ body language at the debate (apart from his smile) with Politico.

According to Navarro, while DeSantis appeared to be “angry” and “nervous” during his opening remarks, it was clear from his point of view that DeSantis cared about the issues he was speaking on. 

“I saw a very serious candidate who is concerned about the issues; it’s clear from the tension in his face. His glabella (the space between your eyebrows) furrowed, which along with his emphatic hand gestures expressed his concern,” Navarro says. “DeSantis’ body language may not have communicated likeability, an important factor for undecided voters looking for a candidate they can trust, but he did show viewers that he considers the issues raised in the debate to be of the utmost importance.” 

Whether DeSantis’ awkward smile creeped you out or not, it is important to consider all aspects of a presidential candidate, determining how much of their beliefs align with your own, and how they make a difference in our country, before casting your vote in the 2024 election. 


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Megan Quinn is a writer at YourTango who covers entertainment and news, self, love, and relationships.