Have you ever been told to “turn that frown upside down” even though you weren’t necessarily upset? If you’re someone with resting bitch face, then you know the struggle. Resting bitch face, or RBF, is a term used to describe a neutral facial expression that may appear angry or unapproachable to others.
Resting Bitch Face (or RBF) is a phenomenon that drives the women who suffer from it crazy.
But, have you ever wondered what causes RBF? Believe it or not, there is actually science behind this phenomenon. Research suggests that people with RBF actually have a stronger muscle tone in the muscles responsible for creating a frown, which causes their neutral expression to look more negative.
It seems that they’re constantly being asked just why it is that they look so angry or unimpressed with the world, only for them to endeavour to explain:
“No actually, it’s just my face.“
Being someone who suffers with Resting Bitch Face myself, I know all about the hassles. I can’t step onto a public bus and zone off without some ‘good Samaritan’ asking why I have such a sour look on my face. Look mate, I hate to break it to you but that’s not emotion, it’s genetics.
Anyway, I was pretty interested to hear about researchers doing what they do best and getting into the science behind Resting Bitch Face. Finally, some insight into the condition that has plagued me since my toddlerhood!
Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth from Holland’s Noldus Information Technology were the researchers in question. They wanted to know why some resting faces are clearly expressionless, while others look very moody, and why overall Resting Bitch Face is considered a female issue.
Using high-tech observation tools that read human expressions they mapped and analysed around 500 points on the face, grouping the expressions that resulted from those points into eight basic emotions. These emotions were sadness, anger, fear, happiness, surprise, disgust, contempt and, of course, neutral.
What they found was pretty interesting. In an absolutely expressionless face there was about 97% neutrality. That’s essentially the true slack-jawed, staring off into the unknown look. The other 3% was made up of what they called “little blips of emotion” such as surprise or sadness.
However, when the researchers examined the faces of some celebs who are often accused by the media of having Resting Bitch Face, they found that the amount of emotion they were detecting doubled. And one particular emotion got a lot of facial air time in the Resting Bitch Face group: contempt.
It turns out that signals in the face that the researchers had assigned to the emotion contempt were incredibly small, almost unnoticed. However, the machine worked in exactly the same way that our brains do, meaning that if it was seeing contempt, so would the public.
A Women’s Issue
What was most interesting about the research of Rogers and Macbeth is that they totally steamrolled the assumption that Resting Bitch Face is something that women in particular are condemned with.
On the contrary their facial analysis technology, which is entirely gender-neutral, was able to find indicators of Resting Bitch Face in an equal number of mens and women’s faces. The researchers believe that social norms, as opposed to facial physiology, are behind the incorrect assumptions.
“(It’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,” Macbeth said.
“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.”
I’ll have to remember to tell the public that next time I’m accused.