Sammy Nickalls
February 04, 2016 9:59 am
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

We’ve all heard of “Resting Bitch Face” (RBF). There are certain celebs who are claimed to have it — Kristen Stewart, Anna Kendrick, and Victoria Beckham, for example. Maybe you have a friend whose face tends to look a little unfriendly when they’re not paying attention; maybe you’ve been told that YOU’VE got a case of RBF. Either way, it’s a pretty sexist term and another way to poke fun of women for smiling.

However, it turns out that RBF is found in an equal proportion between male and female faces — and that the reason we only notice it in female faces is our own biases at play.

Noldus Information Technology behavioral researchers Abbe Macbeth and Jason Rogers decided to research what makes one expression simplyneutral, while another is considered a true, unadulterated RBF. “We wanted this to be fun and kind of tongue-in-cheek, but also to have legitimate scientific data backing it up,” Macbeth told The Washington Post.

So, they used their firms “FaceReader,” a tool that, well, reads faces. It can examine facial expressions through a live camera, a photograph, or a video clip by mapping out 500 points on the human face and analyzes it based on eight basic emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and plain ol’ “neutral.”

First, they had the FaceReader analyze expressions that were absolutely, unequivocally neutral — and they were assessed to be 97% neutral by FaceReader, with “little blips of emotion” here and there. Then, they used examples of well known RBF celebs — Kanye West, Kristen Stewart, and Queen Elizabeth — only to find that the emotion jumped to 6%, mainly in the area of contempt. In other words, the machine is interpreting these faces the way our brains do. “Something in the neutral expression of the face is relaying contempt, both to the software and to us,” MacBeth told Washington Post.

However, one major difference: The machine found RBF in both male and female faces in equal measure, while many of us deem RBF to be a predominantly female thing. Said Macbeth about renowned RBF Anna Kendrick:

Just goes to show how strong societal biases can truly be. If you want to see if you have RBF, you can find out for sure by sending a picture of your “neutral” face to Rogers and Macbeth at jason@noldus.com.

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