We all know that face. Pursed lips, daggers eyes and a look that says, "I hate you," or at least, "I'm annoyed." The expression can wreak havoc on relationships, as highlighted by this comic video from 2013 explaining the affliction popularly known as Resting Bitch Face (RBF), or sometimes, Bitchy Resting Face.
Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth, behavioral researchers with Noldus Information Technology, wanted to find out why some people's neutral expressions are interpreted so negatively, and why we react to them this way.
They ran a series of videos and images through FaceReader, a software program that maps more than 500 points on a face to determine the emotional expression on display. The software looked for signs it associates with the six universally identified emotions: happy, angry, sad, scared, disgusted and surprised. The software could also identify an expression as "neutral" or as displaying contempt. (According to the study, contempt is a more recently recognized emotion with universal reach that is visually defined as "lips and brow not quite angry or sad, the lip tightened and raised more strongly on one side than the other.")
Neutral test faces measured very low for signs of contempt, accounting for only 3 percent of the overall emotional expression, but that figure spiked to 5.76 percent on faces displaying RBF.
This illustration shows how the software interpreted study author Abbe Macbeth's neutral expression, which registered low in contempt:
By contrast, video of this woman in the study registered high in contempt:
"What we take away from this study is that there is an underlying, unconscious contempt aspect to the neutral face of people who are said to have RBF," study author Macbeth told CBS News in an email. "Something in the person's face is relaying greater-than-trace amounts of contempt, but they don't intend that to be the case. Yet the software (and we as humans, viewing the face) see that contempt and react negatively to it."
A scan of Kanye West's face also registered traces of contempt, the researchers said.
Want to know if you have RBF? You can test yourself on the Noldus Information Technology website.
And to people who do have RBF -- this author included -- Macbeth says not to worry. "At this point, we can't 'fix' anyone's face, even though we've had requests from people to do so, as this study has hit the internet this week," she said. "I don't think that it's worth getting stressed out over."