Resting bitch face (better known as RBF) has threatened mankind for ages, with women especially being accused of wearing this default don’t-fuck-with-me facial expression. Researchers recently dug into the origins of RBF and found that perhaps it’s not just a lady thing.
Curious about the behavioral science behind resting bitch face (or bitchy resting face), researchers Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth started analyzing data. Specifically, they wanted to know (per Science of Us, via The Washington Post):
What is the difference between an expressionless face and a repulsive one? In other words, what makes a person’s otherwise neutral face register as RBF to another person?
To find out, the pair used a software called FaceReader that IDs and analyzes facial expressions and then categorizes it as one of several emotions, ranging from “happiness” to “sadness” to “contempt” or plain “neutral.”
As guinea pigs for the FaceReader, Rogers and Macbeth input a few RBF-afflicted celebrities, namely Kristen Stewart and Kanye West. They discovered that the FaceReader registered “contempt” on these faces, thanks to certain characteristics. For example, “one side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little,” Rogers told The Washington Post.
“Something in the neutral expression of the face is relaying contempt, both to the software and to us,” says MacBeth.
These results show, in part, that maybe society’s judgment of RBF sufferers is warranted:
FaceReader senses something off-putting about some otherwise neutral visages. In other words, our human tendency to classify someone with a sullen and miffed expression as possessing RBF isn’t necessarily off.
The second point: This is not a strictly female phenomenon. Discussions over RBF may have launched based on how a certain population of female celebrities would show up on the red carpet refusing to flash their pearly whites for cameras, but Macbeth and Rogers found that the expression can be detected equally in both males and females.
The findings aren’t shocking, but they do point to the stigma of women as bitchy face-havers (as evidenced by the fact that it’s called resting “bitch” face), compared with guys like Kanye who show the same expression.
“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,” says Macbeth. “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.”
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