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Finally, science discovers why we get Resting Bitch Face (and it's not just a female phenomenon)


It's been three years since the term "Resting Bitch Face" entered our conscience and now science might finally, finally have an answer for why people think we're annoyed when we're not.

In case you haven't heard of it before, Resting Bitch Face (RBF), or Bitchy Resting Face, refers to someone whose neutral expression makes them look angry or annoyed. The term went viral back in 2013, making The New York Times list of most popular phrases of the year and cementing its place in our daily culture.

And if you often find yourself on the receiving end of an irritatingly chirpy stranger telling you to "smile" or "cheer up" then you probably have it - but don't worry, so do A-listers including Kristen Stewart, Kanye West and even Queen Elizabeth.

kristen stewart

Kristen Stewart is the poster girl for Resting Bitch Face

Now, two behavioural scientists from international research and innovation firm Noldus Information Technology have found a reason why some neutral expressions look inherently "bitchy" while others do not.

Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth used Noldus' FaceReader, a sophisticated piece of face mapping software based on more than 10,000 human faces, to investigate RBF. The software works by mapping 500 points on a human face and ascribing it one of eight basic human emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt and neutral.

The team found that FaceReader detected double the amount of emotion from neutral expressions of celebrities with RBF compared to neutral expressions from other faces, and discovered this emotion to be - you guessed it - contempt.

Kanye West's RBF is legendary

Kanye West's RBF is legendary

This contempt, which equated to RBF, was very subtle.

"One side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little,” Rogers said to The Washington Post.

Or a "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 said.

Anna Kendrick's RBF

Anna Kendrick's RBF

Most interestingly, the software doesn't recognise gender bias, and it found an equal effect of resting bitch face in both men and women.

This dispels the current thinking that resting bitch face is a more female phenomenon and demonstrates a worrying trend in our culture of what we expect from women.

Macbeth used Anna Kendrick as an example to demonstrate the point. She said, "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’.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.”



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