Um, what exactly is the “Not Face” and is it sexist?

Move over “Resting Bitch Face,” the “Not Face” has entered the arena AND it’s an expression that doesn’t only (and unfairly) apply to women.

The “Not Face” isn’t sexist —and that’s been proven.

Based on a study published in Cognition, Ohio State University researchers have come across a facial expression that’s symbolic of negativity. As we mentioned before, it does not only apply to women – it can in fact be seen in many different cultures and across all genders. It is represented by these three characteristics: pressed lips, a raised chin, and a furrowed brow.


What does the “Not Face” mean? Pretty much what it sounds like.

Essentially, the Not Face is used to convey statements such as “I do not agree,” Seventeen reports. Plus, this look was found to be identical when native English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and American Sign Language speakers were examined.

Where did it come from?

“To our knowledge, this is the first evidence that the facial expressions we use to communicate negative moral judgment have been compounded into a unique, universal part of language,” said study author Aleix Martinez. “Where did language come from? 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.”


So, how exactly did this study come about? The answer: Scientists such as Charles Darwin have long believed that negative expressions help humans survive (especially before we were able to talk). That’s why the Ohio State researches suspected that if a universal facial expression does exist, it would most likely be associated with disapproval.

Studies were done to conclude exactly why we use the “Not Face.”

Using 158 students – who were arranged into four groups displaying different grammatical structures – the scientists tested their theory. They put each student in front of a camera and asked them to converse in their natural language with the person behind the camera. Along the way, the study’s authors were looking for a “grammatical marker,” which is a facial expression that determines the function of a sentence. Example: with the sentence “I am not going to clean my room,” the word not is the marker because it completely changes the sentence’s meaning.


The results: all four groups presented negation-based, grammatical markers.

Frame by frame, researchers also took pictures of the students talking so they could see how their faces were moving. This then allowed computer algorithms to find commonalities between their speech tempos. In the end, it was discovered that the students made the “Not Face” in the same frequency range, meaning that “the facial expression is an actual grammatical marker.”

While this alone is highly fascinating, researchers realized something even more surprising: ASL students used the Not Face to communicate an entire statement. Sometimes they signed “not,” and, other times, they shook their head. Both of these methods are documented, but the Not Face isn’t – which they used as third way to communicate the word “not.”


“This facial expression not only exists, but in some instances, it is the only marker of negation in a signed sentence,” said Martinez on Ohio State’s website. “Sometimes the only way you can tell that the meaning of the sentence is negative is that person made the ‘not face’ when they signed it.”

With all this lingual knowledge under their belts, the research team hopes to further explore the origins of language – facial expressions and grammatical markers included.