The Scientific Explanation for Resting Bitch Face
When I first moved to Philly, a kid I’d gone to high school with invited me to the birthday party of one his frat brothers at a Chinese restaurant, where, I kid you not, dozens of Penn students were playing Pat the Bag with red wine … in a restaurant. After about 10 minutes there, the kid I’d gone to high school with said to me, “You know, I thought you were a bitch in high school, but you’re actually really nice.” Then, and this is not a joke, the birthday boy puked red wine all over himself — at the dinner table.
It was the worst in so many ways.
But I have to admit, I wasn’t surprised by the “bitch” comment, as bizarre as it was for him to say. People have always mistaken my neutral face for the face of someone who is pissed off or annoyed or a number of other negative adjectives when, really, that’s just how my face falls. I’m not in bad company (well, depending on who you ask, I guess): resting bitch face can be seen on the likes of Kanye West and Kristin Stewart, to name just a few famous people afflicted.
And now we know why: As the Washington Post reports, a couple of behavioral researchers at Noldus Information Technology have discovered why, when you think your face is just neutral, other people register it as bitchy.
The scientists used Noldus’s FaceReader, which is designed to identify expressions — happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt and neutral — based on a catalogue of thousands of human faces. First, the researchers had the FaceReader assess faces that seemed genuinely expressionless and the machine registered those at 97 percent neutrality. Then, they had the FaceReader assess the “neutral” faces of people like Yeezy, Kristin Stewart and Queen Elizabeth, the king and queens of resting bitch face. Instead of registering as 97 percent neutral, those faces registered as 94 percent neutral, with the majority of the difference registering as “contempt.” And us humans register facial expressions the same way the ol’ FaceReader does.
So, what does contempt look like? The two researchers explained it to the Washington Post as “One side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little” and “a kind of tightening around the eyes, and a little bit of raising of the corners of the lips — but not into a smile.” If your neutral face happens to fall in that way, you are a resting bitch face queen, according to science. Now, from here on out, whenever anyone says “You know, you should smile more!” simply refer them to this post.
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