The scientific explanation for 'resting bitch face' (yes, there is one)

You might have heard of a recent phenomenon known as ‘resting bitch face,’ in which you think a person is mildly annoyed when, in fact, he or she is simply displaying their regular face when at rest. What’s going on here? Is this just a buzz phrase that escalated off the back of a viral meme? Or is resting bitch face actually a valid and scientifically explainable occurrence?  Well, a couple of scientists decided to find out.

Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth, behavioural researchers with international research and innovation firm Noldus Information Technology, set out to investigate what could make one apparently neutral face more objectionable than another. Using a sophisticated piece of facial analysis software called FaceReader, the researchers interpreted a range of facial expressions, starting with those widely accepted to be expressionless. The software backed this up; neutral facial expressions came up as generally emotionless when run through the system, with only minor blips of emotion showing here and there. However, when analysing faces generally seen to be exhibiting resting bitch face, such as those of celebrities Kanye West and Kristen Stewart, the level of emotion the system read increased two-fold.

The overriding emotion detected was contempt, as noted by subtle signals. Whether a squinting or tightening of the eyes or a slight curling of the lip, the software was able to distinguish between neutral and contemptuous expressions, explaining why some people are perceived to be irritated even when they’re not. There really is no intentional bitchiness evident behind the resting bitch face. According to Rogers’ and Macbeth’s research, it could simply be a case of genetics or even the effects of gravity over time.

The research also shows that there is no discernible difference between the genders when it comes to exhibiting resting bitch face. While it might typically be seen as a female-centred phenomenon, with celebs such as Nicki Minaj and Anna Kendrick often having the accusation directed their way, there is nothing exclusive to women about the tendency of their facial features to unintentionally offend. Guys like Kanye are just as prone to the occurrence.

Noldus researcher, Abbe Macbeth, told the Washington Post, “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.”

Ever been worried or told that you’re involuntarily exhibiting resting bitch face? Thanks to the researchers at Noldus, you can now run your face through the analysis software and find out which emotions you’re exhibiting the most. Simply click this link to submit your face and get your results.


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