You know that look some people have of utter contempt for the world? The type of look that makes you think that someone’s a complete ‘bitch’ even before you’ve spoken to them – well it turns out there’s a reason they look like that.
The Washington Post reports, that since 2013 when the resting bitch face (RBF) meme took off, hundreds of people and pop culture icons have been unkindly labelled with RBF – which is most politely described as looking vaguely annoyed at literally everything.
The vast majority of those accused of ‘suffering’ from RBF are women, although some men – like the voice of a generation, Kanye West – have also been labelled as sufferers.
The RBF phenomenon made two behavioural researchers, Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth, from the innovation firm Noldus Information Technology wonder: What made some faces look expressionless, while others are inexplicably off-putting?
We wanted this to be fun and kind of tongue-in-cheek, but also to have legitimate scientific data backing it up,
Using Noldus’s FaceReader – a sophisticated machine built to identify expressions based on a catalogue of more than 10,000 pictures of human faces – the team were able to analyse images and assign an expression based on the eight basic human emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and ‘neutral.’
The team began by establishing a ‘normal’ face, by scanning pictures of expressionless faces. Those faces registered about 97 per cent neutrality, with the other 3 per cent usually being happiness, or another emotion.
But when then they plugged in photos of some well known RBF ‘sufferers’ including Kanye West, Kristen Stewart and Queen Elizabeth – suddenly, the level of emotion detected by the software doubled to six per cent and they all registered one very specific emotion.
The emotion was ‘contempt’, the feeling that you’re of a higher status than others – not so much of a surprise.
And how exactly does a computer measure contempt in a face?
It’s in subtle signals, like one side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little.
While Macbeth suggested:
Or it’s kind of a tightening around the eyes, and a little bit of raising of the corners of the lips — but not into a smile.
Interestingly FaceReader, being a piece of software, is immune to gender bias and detected RBF in male and female faces equally. Which calls bullshit on the idea of RBF as being a mainly female phenomenon.
If you’re worried that you may have RBF, the team are offering a way to find out for sure. Rogers and Macbeth have invited brave members of the public to submit their own faces for analysis.
Everyone’s welcome to email photos of their most ‘neutral’ expressions to [email protected], and FaceReader will tell you if you’re actually expressionless or if you too suffer from RBF.