Lookism and it’s latest concern.
Scientists have discovered what causes Resting Bitch Face.
Among the slew of pop culture icons said to be afflicted with so-called Resting Bitch Face (alternatively known as Bitchy Resting Face), the vast majority are women, though Kanye West is among the male examples. All of them have been mocked by Internet commenters for having a certain unintentional expression when their faces are not in motion — a look best described as vaguely annoyed, maybe a little judgy, perhaps slightly bored.
Since the RBF meme took over the Internet in 2013, fueled by a viral mock-PSA about “Bitchy Resting Face,” legions of people have identified the dreaded phenomenon in celebrity list circles, in their own social circles, even in the mirror.
So Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth, behavioral researchers with international research and innovation firm Noldus Information Technology, decided to investigate: Why are some faces seen as truly expressionless, but others are inexplicably off-putting? What, exactly, makes us register a seemingly neutral expression as RBF?
“We wanted this to be fun and kind of tongue-in-cheek, but also to have legitimate scientific data backing it up,” Macbeth said.
To establish a baseline, Rogers and Macbeth first had FaceReader assess a series of genuinely expressionless faces. Those expressions registered about 97 percent neutrality, Macbeth said; the remaining three percent included “little blips of emotion” — a touch of sadness here, a hint of surprise there, but nothing significant.
Then they plugged in photos of RBF all-stars Kanye West, Kristen Stewart and Queen Elizabeth. Suddenly, the level of emotion detected by the software doubled to six percent.
One particular emotion was responsible for the jump: “The big change in percentage came from ‘contempt,’” Macbeth said.
It’s in subtle signals, like “one side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little,” Rogers explained.
Or: “It’s kind of a tightening around the eyes, and a little bit of raising of the corners of the lips — but not into a smile,” Macbeth suggested.
But there was one big difference, she added. FaceReader, being a piece of software and therefore immune to gender bias, proved to be the great equalizer: It detected RBF in male and female faces in equal measure. Which means that the idea of RBF as a predominantly female phenomenon has little to do with facial physiology and more to do with social norms.
“When she was younger, directors would say, ‘Why don’t you smile more, you need to smile more, you don’t seem like you’re very happy,’” Macbeth said. “That’s something that’s expected from women far more than it’s expected from men, and there’s a lot of anecdotal articles and scientific literature on that. So RBF isn’t necessarily something that occurs more in women, but we’re more attuned to notice it in women because women have more pressure on them to be happy and smiley and to get along with others.”
Worried that you might have RBF? Now you can find out for sure. After publishing their results in October, Rogers and Macbeth invited members of the public to submit their own faces for analysis. Guys and gals alike are welcome to email photos of their most “neutral” facial expressions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and FaceReader will tell you if you’re actually expressionless — or if you and the Queen have RBF in common.”