If you’ve been watching the news lately, chances are you’ve seen at least a few segments about Martin Shkreli, the price-gouging CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who jacked up the price of a life-saving drug by literally 5,000%. And you’ve probably thought to yourself, “Wow, I really want to punch that guy.” You’re not alone. In fact, it seems that most people experience the singular reaction of wanting to punch Shkreli in the face. As it turns out, there may be a scientific reason for that.
One of the primary reasons Shkreli is so punchable is because we associate him with an emotion: for most of us, we just don’t like him, and we think he’s a jerk. “An emotion is something that you construct in your own brain,” explains Lisa Barrett, a psychology of emotion professor at Northeastern University. So because Shkreli’s face scans for us as something negative, we associate him with that emotion.
The structure of Shkreli’s face also plays into our apparently collective experience of wanting to hit him. Because he has what’s considered a “baby face”—round structure, larger eye sockets, and a short distance between the mouth and eyes—people tend to perceive him as less trustworthy and more infantile. Therefore, people see him as a spoiled, bratty child. If his face were more angular, he might be perceived as more of an adult—and people might be less likely to describe him as having a punchable face.
Another strike against Shkreli is the way he uses his face. Shkreli makes a lot of faces that we associate with anger—smirking, eye-rolling, laughter. “Were Darwin here to weigh in on the matter, then, he may well suggest that Shkreli’s face looks punchable because his emotions are causing his face to physically prepare for a punch. A self-fulfilling prophesy,” says ThinkProgress.
It’s also true that we carry social expectations about how people should behave when they’re in places like courtrooms. We like people to register no emotion on their faces, something Shkreli simply does not do. We associate his facial expressions with a face that’s preparing to be punched.
Of course, it’s possible that we all just want to punch him because of his behavior and what he’s done to patients around the world and the pharmaceutical industry. We seem to agree that his behavior has been inappropriate and his actions nearly sinful. We might just not like him as a person.
But he really does smirk a lot.