And software reveals that the Internet phenomenon is just as common in men as women
A much publicised online phenomenon that is either, depending on how funny you think the joke is, an example of web ephemera or another example of the Internet’s obsession with undermining women, scientists have revealed they have found the cause of the much-maligned resting bitch face.
A term used to describe women (and occasionally men) whose sour pusses have been captured on camera, the phrase is often used to describe countless pop culture figures, from Kristen Stewart to British monarch Elizabeth II. The source of much derision online, Internet commentators and trolls have applied the RBF terminology to any image of a star looking sorry for him or herself, a little morose, or having the audacity to allow themselves to get bored.
Resting Bitch Face first emerged online in 2013, when a mock ‘Public Service Announcement’ comedy sketch written by and featuring Taylor Orci saw the concept of having a bitchy face go viral, with column inches and social-media shares dedicated to identifying the celebrities that best embody the notion becoming a common feature in media.
The sudden popular usage of the term led Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth, behavioural researchers, to look into the physical nature of having a bitch face, resting or otherwise.
“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 recently.
As employees of Noldus Information Technology, a Virginia-based company that develops software for observational and behavioural research, the two had access to the firm’s FaceReader, software used to recognise facial cues and expressions. The FaceReader works by comparing facial patterns to its library of 10,000 human faces.
Feeding it pictures of celebrities who have been identified as having resting bitch face, the software mapped 500 points on their faces, analysing its readings based on its understanding of eight human emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and neutral.
Crunching the numbers of the smile-it-might-never-happen mugs of Queen Elizabeth, K-Stew and Kanye West, the technology pinpointed one emotional tick as holding more sway over how resting faces gain their bitchy expression – contempt.
According to Jason Rogers, the software recognises a look of contempt through a number of subtle signals like “one side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little.”
“It’s a kind of tightening around the eyes, and a little bit of raising of the corners of the lips – but not into a smile,” Abbe Macbeth said.
The micro-expressions are faint and indirect indicators of emotion, but something in the way human psychology interprets them is also being detected by the cold and impassive technology.
The technology recognised rapper Kanye West as having a diagnosable Resting Bitch Face [WikiCommons]
“Something in the neutral expression of the face is exhibiting contempt, both to the software and to us,” Macbeth added.
Where the 1s and 0s of the FaceReader differed from the biased whims of its creators, however, was in its indifference to XX and XY; the FaceReader saw an equal number of bitchy faces in both men and women, suggesting that the Internet’s delight in diagnosing it as a female issue is perhaps another example of subconscious – or blatant – societal norms making things worse for women.
Any reader concerned that his or her face is prone to moments of resting bitchiness can send in a neutral-faced selfie to Rogers and Macbeth. Email the file to Jason@noldus.com and the FaceReader may be able to tell you if your countenance is as contemptuous as you fear.