By Lauren Dorling
When Hollywood star Anna Kendrick said she looks at her face and thinks, “Oh my God, what’s wrong with me?”, people worldwide sighed in acknowledgement.
It is an all too familiar question. She, like lots of others, suffers from “that face”.
You know, the face that has people constantly questioning what’s wrong; the face that prevents people from appreciating how hilarious you are because they think you’re being serious; the face that makes it hard to socialise because you cause others to fear for their lives.
That’s right – resting bitch face.
Defined by Urban Dictionary as an “unintentional look upon a person’s face that conveys a sense of hostility or judgement at rest”, RBF is a very real phenomenon – and science has proven it so.
Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth, behavioural researchers with international research and innovation firm Noldus Information Technology, conducted research into RBF, focusing their project on two questions: “Why do we all react so negatively to that face?” and “Is there something more to it than we think?”
The duo conducted the study by using the Noldus tool FaceReader, which is designed to identify specific facial expressions, namely happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, and contempt, based on an image catalogue of over 10,000 human faces. The software assigns the respective expressions by reading and then analysing 500 points on the face. Rogers and Macbeth ran a series of images and videos through the software, of both ”normal” faces and those deemed to have RBF, and found that one emotion in particular “continued to rear its ugly head” – contempt.
In the ”normal” faces contempt accounted for approximately 3 per cent of the overall emotional expression. In Kristen Stewart, Kanye West, Queen Elizabeth, to name a few of RB faces chosen, the amount of contempt registered was 5.67 per cent – almost double.
The salient point according to the duo is not the increased percentage, however. It is that FaceReader did not detect enough contempt in the faces to be a ‘true’ embodiment of the expression. So, if ‘that face’ is not contempt, what is it?
“RBF is a perceived look that someone has on his/her face vs what the person is actually feeling. The contempt values range, but the idea is that it’s quite subtle, as opposed to overt contempt,” Rogers explained.
Our brains are wired to recognise even the smallest amount of contempt on a face, so the poor folk who have become the butt of the meme world, are, in other words, subject to such a fate not by any fault of their own – which they have been led to believe – but because of what another person sees.
But victims needn’t wallow in self-pity, for Rogers has some inspiring words. He doesn’t believe anyone is ‘stuck’ with RBF; “A facial expression is unconscious, but perhaps you could learn to be more aware of your reactions. Furthermore, you should surround yourself with those who know you and don’t devalue you by calling you ‘RBF.’”
That applies to you too, boys! The pair disproved the largely held opinion that only females can have ‘that face’. FaceReader detected RBF in equal measure in box sexes, so males and females alike can rejoice that their face is unsettling others for scientific reasons. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, society!
There are, of course, some people who “have sought validation from the study, whilst others have looked for suggestions for ‘fixing their faces’, but overall the reaction has been fantastic,” says Rogers. Although, he often jokes that, “I did real academic research for fifteen years, published a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles, yet it was this pop culture phenomenon that went viral.” If it is any recompense, Essex University students will now wear their RBFs with pride because of you.