Science Says Resting Bitch Face Is Real — And You're Probably Judging People for It
Resting Bitch Face. Bitchy Resting Face. Face That Exudes An Air Of Bitchiness Whilst At Rest. Whatever you call it, the concept is trending both on the internet and the faces of people everywhere.
Now science has confirmed its existence — and the effect it can have on others.
In short, RBF is when a person's expression unintentionally implies they are "simultaneously bored, mad and skeptical," Jessica Bennett wrote of her own face in a New York Times op-ed on the subject. Essentially, someone displaying RBF might not be the kind of person you'd be inclined to ask for directions.
Now, two scientists have definitively confirmed that RBF has a direct effect on the perceptions of others. When confronted with an inadvertently unfriendly face, our brains are wired to make assumptions, which, according to the numbers, are rarely ever true.
Behavioral researchers Abbe Macbeth and Jason Rogers wanted to figure out if there was any basis for Resting Bitch Face and its impact, so they teamed up with Noldus Information Technology, a company known for its innovative approach to studying human and animal behavior.
The project culminated in the expertly titled report, "Throwing Shade: The Science of Resting 'B*tch' Face," published by Noldus in October.
Using FaceReader — software with an index of more than 10,000 facial expressions which can assess both still and moving images and analyzes 500 different points of the face — the team studied faces considered emotionless and those "afflicted" by RBF. FaceReader is capable of reading neutrality, contempt, happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise and anger.
Starting with emotionless faces to ascertain a baseline, FaceReader found that the expressions were 97% neutral, and 3%, a smattering of other emotions.
Then Macbeth and Rogers turned to consummate RBFers Kanye West, Queen Elizabeth II and Kristen Stewart to see if the FaceReader found anything different.
And it did.
Those faces were, on average, around 94% neutral, and there were almost twice as many miscellaneous emotions, at roughly 6%. But, perhaps crucially, the emotionless face had only a 0.82% presence of contempt, while the RBF contained 3.27%. That's almost four times as much contempt.
The identifying marks of contempt abound. "While contempt can be displayed for a variety of reasons, it's easily recognized due to its curious facial phenotype: lips and brow not quite angry or sad, the lip tightened and raised more strongly on one side than the other," the study explains.
However, the study authors emphasized that those prone to such expressions do not necessarily feel contemptuous at all. They just simply appear to have been born on the wrong side of the bed because, well, genes.
"This is a fundamental and key point. FaceReader is not detecting enough contempt to reflect true contempt, because these faces are not actually displaying contempt. It just looks like contempt to the viewer," Macbeth and Rogers wrote. "Thus, it is the perception of that unconscious, subtle contempt expression that defines RBF. Although that face may not be intentional, the viewer's brain is wired to analyze, and recognize, when a face is displaying even minute traces of contempt."
Still, scientific evidence doesn't always match up with anecdotal evidence. In a story published in August, Mic's own EJ Dickson, a self-declared RBFer, attributes her own tendency to anxiety: "From my perspective, my RBF is inextricably linked with my genetic predisposition toward anxiety."
Now here's where it gets uncomfortable: It turns out that humans are a lot more judgmental than the trusty FaceReader. While RBF has typically been consigned to women, the software found that an equal number of men and women suffer from the" affliction." In fact, RBF is immune to age, race and gender.
The study, therefore, isn't just scientifically substantiating a cultural phenomenon — it lends credence to our collective sexism, too.
Watch the FaceReader in action here: