Researchers break down the science behind 'Resting Bitch Face'

Face-reading software shows that people believed to have "resting bitch face" are more likely to show signs of contempt that those believed to have genuinely neutral expressions.
Kanye West, frequently cited as being guilty of having a "Resting Bitch Face", is read by face reader software. (WikiCommons/Noldus Information Technology)

It's known as "Resting Bitch Face", or "RBF."

A person is sitting around, thinking about nothing in particular and they're accused of looking "bitchy."

"They have what they think is a neutral expression on their face but we as the viewer of that person kind of see that as 'Why does that person look so upset?'" Abbe Macbeth tells As It Happens guest host Tom Harrington.

"It's not necessarily angry, or disgusted, or anything specific but just something in their face that says that person's not happy."

Macbeth is a neuroscientist with Noldus Information Technology. She is using behavioural research software to try to uncover the science behind "RBF." 

By using software to scan images of expressionless faces and comparing them to scans of celebrities accused of having "RBF", the team found the algorythm identified the faces that are more likely to show signs of contempt.

Television personality Kim Kardashian arrives with Kanye West to attend the 2015 CFDA Fashion Awards in New York June 1, 2015. He's been accused of having a "RBF". (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

"Resting Bitch Face" has been attributed to countless celebrities. Queen Elizabeth frequently has been labeled an RBF-er, along with Victoria Beckham and Kanye West. But Macbeth found that overall the look is attributed to more women than men.

"I think it's because of societal pressure on women," Macbeth explains. "We're trained from early days to kind of 'go along to get along' and that's what society wants to see in women, so women are told 'Why aren't you smiling more? You look a lot prettier when you smile.'"

In this Dec. 10, 2015 photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II sits at a desk in the 18th Century Room in Buckingham Palace in London, after recording her Christmas Day broadcast to the Commonwealth, to be broadcast Friday, Dec. 25, 2015. She's been accused of "RBF", too. (John Stillwell/Pool Photo via AP) (The Associated Press)

This Aug. 1, 2013 file photo shows Simon Cowell, a judge on the FOX series "The X Factor," during a panel discussion on the show at the FOX 2013 Summer TCA press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. "RBF"? (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

"It's this kind of passive sexism in a way that gets attributed to women," Macbeth adds. "Whereas men, who are supposed to be, I think, a little more dominant, a little more assertive, are not asked to smile more because that's not something that we expect from them."

But Macbeth says the her study shows that the software is indifferent and reinforces the idea that these judgments are the result of conditioned social norms and gender roles.

"The software doesn't care if you're male or female," Macbeth explains. "It's finding the same levels of contempt, in the same type of facial expression regardless of being male or female."

As It Happens hosts Carol Off and Jeff Douglas sporting their best non-"RBF" looks. (CBC)