Life

Forget bitchy resting; scientists have discovered the universal judgy face

Posted by
Harriet Hall
Published

For many of us, the struggle of bitchy resting face is real. Constantly avoided by strangers before we’ve even opened our mouths, simply because our face looks like it’s ready to sass you at all times.

Well now, scientists have discovered that when we’re expressing disagreement with something or just feeling generally ‘nah,’ we make a universal expression: the ‘not face.’

Researchers at Ohio State University conducted a series of experiments using computer technology in order to identify universal expressions. They discovered 21 distinct human facial expressions, from the vague ‘happy’ or ‘disgusted’ to the combined face: ‘happily disgusted’ (pertaining to the satisfaction we get when we watch someone popping a spot).

But the face they decided to focus on was the negative expression we make when we disagree with someone or something.

nto face

A classic 'not face.'

They chose to focus on a negative expression in order to investigate Charles Darwin’s belief that human’s ability to communicate danger or aggression was vital to our survival before the spoken word had developed. Based on Darwin’s theory, any truly universal expression should thus be easiest to identify if it were a negative one.

In order to test their hypothesis, the researchers placed 158 participants in front of digital cameras and filmed them having a conversation with someone in their native language.

When negative markers arose in conversation, the researchers were able to show which facial muscles moved, and in what way.

Every student who disagreed with topics arising in conversation created the same face.

The researchers identified a single, universal expression that can be interpreted across several cultures – in English, Spanish, Mandarin, American Sign languages – as the embodiment of negative emotion.

The look, which they have termed the ‘not’ face, consists of a furrowed brow, pursed lips and a slightly raised chin. (Imagine yourself hearing George Osbourne rationalise cuts to disabled citizens and then look in the mirror straight away, and you will see the ‘not’ face.)

the not face

The not face: Ohio State University

The study, published in the journal, Cognition, explained that our brain causes us to make the ‘not face’ as quickly as we form sentences – thus revealing it is part of our natural instinct.

Those using American Sign Language were seen to form the face sometimes instead of signing the words ‘I disagree.’

“To our knowledge, this is the first evidence that the facial expressions we use to communicate negative moral judgement have been compounded into a unique, universal part of language,” says cognitive scientist Aleix Martinez, from the Ohio State University.

“Where did language come from?” questions Martinez. This is a question that the scientific community has grappled with for a very long time.

“This study strongly suggests a link between language and facial expressions of emotion.”