Science Finds Resting Bitch Face Is Real -- And Men Can Have It, Too

Just a tiny bit of contempt, even if you don't mean it, can give you "that look."

Science has confirmed that resting bitch face is real, and that it happens in men as often as women.

Resting bitch face, also known as RBF or bitchy resting face, gained attention in 2013 after a Funny or Die video done in the form of a PSA went viral.

But RBF is more than just an Internet meme. It's a certain look that many people recognize, a look the researchers behind the new study say can "make us second guess our every decision when it’s pointed in our direction."

Some celebrities have been quite open about their struggles with RBF.

“When somebody takes a photo and I’m in the background of it, and I look at it I do think, ‘Oh my God what’s wrong with me?’” actress Anna Kendrick said last year on "The Late Late Show With James Corden."

Actress Anna Kendrick has been open about her struggles with RBF.
Actress Anna Kendrick has been open about her struggles with RBF.
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

So what is it about certain faces?

Behavioral researchers Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth of Noldus Information Technology used the company's FaceReader program to examine both faces with RBF and those without it to see if differences could be identified.

The study was published on the company's blog in October, but flew under the radar until the Washington Post reported on it this week.

"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 newspaper.

FaceReader uses 500 points on the face to analyze expressions and detect the signs of various emotions -- including ones that may not be obvious -- and it honed in on one that seems far more present in people with RBF: contempt.

The typical facial expression is mostly neutral with just 3 percent of different emotions hidden in it, including just a drop of contempt. In RBF, however, the level of emotion nearly doubles to 5.76 percent -- with most of that increase in the form of contempt.

"FaceReader is not detecting enough contempt to reflect true contempt because these faces are not actually displaying contempt," the researchers wrote in the blog post. "It just looks like contempt to the viewer. Thus, it is the perception of that unconscious, subtle contempt expression that defines RBF."

They added:

Although that face may not be intentional, the viewer’s brain is wired to analyze, and recognize, when a face is displaying even minute traces of contempt. Because contempt is based upon elements of comparison and judgment, viewing this in someone’s face creates a feeling of uneasiness, or uncomfortableness, for the person viewing that face.

The faces analyzed in the study included a number of public figures who appear to suffer from RBF, including Kristen Stewart, Queen Elizabeth and Kanye West:

Kanye West shows the classic signs of resting bitch face.
Kanye West shows the classic signs of resting bitch face.
David Shankbone

"While we wouldn’t say Kanye is showing anger or disgust or any other 'negative' emotion, we know that he isn’t simply 'neutral' either," Rogers and Macbeth wrote. "Indeed, FaceReader registers those minute amounts of contempt that are simply not present in non-RBF 'neutral' faces."

While there has been a certain amount of sexism surrounding resting bitch face -- even the name itself is laced with it -- the computer detected RBF as frequently in men as it did in women.

"RBF isn’t necessarily something that occurs more in women," Macbeth told the Washington Post, "but we’re more attuned to notice it in women because women have more pressure on them to be happy and smiley and to get along with others.”

Do you suffer from RBF? The researchers are offering to help. Email a photo to for an analysis of your expressionless face to determine whether or not you may have this condition.

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