Resting Bitch Face: The Science Behind the Scowl

Have you ever felt you look like a bitch? Have you ever been asked why you look so angry, but you feel just fine? Resting bitch face, commonly known as RBF, could be your problem. 

According to Cambridge University, resting bitch face is “an unkind, annoyed, or serious expression that someone has on their face when relaxed, without intending to.” The problem with RBF is that many miscommunications and misconceptions can happen as a response to it.

According to Dr. David B. Givens, director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Washington, “The facial muscles are innervated by cranial nerve number seven, which is the facial nerve.”

“The facial nerve is well plugged into emotions in the brain to emotional centers for anger, fear, happiness, and these sorts of things, but for the resting face, there’s no such length to emotions,” Givens said. “It’s just emotionless.” 

Simply, if you’re not feeling any emotions, then no emotions will be transmitted, causing your face to react with a blank or neutral expression. There are also unproven suggestions that RBF can be hereditary. Givens talked about the similarity between a child’s laugh and a parent’s laugh. Often, he said, you’ll find that the child will emulate a parent’s laugh. Similarily, a children could get the same look as their parent, because it is a look that they grew up with and are used to seeing. 

“There could be some familial instances,” Givens said. “I’ve noticed just in my own life experience with people that when you get to know their (the children’s) parents, they behave a lot like their parents.”

Dr. Jason Rogers has a doctorate in psychology with an emphasis on the neurobiology of learning and memory. He is a product expert at Noldus Consulting and the voice behind using the FaceReader technology to help identify RBF. The FaceReader is a program that analyzes the basic facial emotions (happy, sad, angry, surprised, scared and disgusted), pioneered by Paul Ekman. It analyzes the face for contemptuous features, which is the main reason for the RBF demeanor. The FaceReader is free and can analyze your face to see if you have RBF after uploading a photo. 

FaceReader is a software that automatically analyzes basic facial expressions: neutral, contempt, boredom, interest, and confusion. You can upload a photo to see whether you have RBF at
https://www.testrbf.com/

Rogers agrees that heredity can be a part of RBF, but in a different way. Rogers believes that there can be some familial transfer from a parent’s RBF to a child’s RBF.

“I don’t want to say yes, but it certainly is possible,” Rogers said. “I say genetic only in the sense that we look like our parents. For example, me personally, I have a very crooked smile. And so I don’t like to smile. My father does the exact same thing.”

One falsity that many people may believe is that RBF only appears in women. However, both Givens and Rogers said that RBF is gender-neutral, but women are often the receiver of the RBF label.

“Our software (the FaceReader) demonstrated that men and women display it equally,” Rogers said. “When you think about RBF, you say Kristen Stewart, Anna Kendrick, and you might throw in Kanye, but you’re never going to point to another male.”

Race is another contributing factor that can lead to RBF. Givens, who’s a quarter Comanche, talks about how Native Americans are one race that may be affiliated with RBF due to their facial structures.

“A facial feature of a lot of Native Americans is down trending mouth corners at rest,” Givens said. “The corners trend down, which gives a kind of angry look to it, unless you really go out of the way to smile.” 

Givens recalls a negative experience he’s had due to the trending downward mouth corners.

“I’ve had this issue in my own interactions where people think I’m not approachable or I’m not friendly,” Givens said. “So I have to go out of my way to smile.”

 Misconceptions of people can happen if people with RBF don’t put in extra effort to communicate effectively with people they are meeting for the first time. 

“That’s where this RBF can be a problem because you’re dealing with people on a first meeting basis,” Givens said. “They’re learning about you from what they see and hear, and they’re not going to get to know you well at one meeting or two meetings. So, you have to work to build rapport.”

Without proper self-knowledge, people with RBF may encounter miscommunication with the people around them.

“The thing is, you need some self-knowledge of what you actually look like when your face is at rest,” Givens said. “So that’s where the photos come in and the videotape.”

Having RBF can be a very sensitive topic for some people, even though our current media plays it off jokingly.

“A lot of people are really affected by this in a negative way,” Rogers said. “They have asked about whether or not they should get plastic surgery. They have asked about what they can do to stop being this way, and it’s heartbreaking.”

 Experts say there is no concrete way to help someone who has RBF. Being aware of RBF and showing empathy are some of the extra steps you can take to make sure that someone with RBF feels comfortable in social situations. 

“Try to think, ‘How can I give everyone the benefit of the doubt?’” Rogers said. “And unless they say something to you that would truly reinforce it, don’t come in with a perception or don’t come in with the expectation that that’s what’s wrong.”

While many may be aware of their facial expressions, others might not be attuned to it. 

 “It is important for every person to be aware of how they look and how they’re presenting themselves because we are social creatures,” Rogers said. “And so much of our communication is done nonverbally.” 

Giving someone the benefit of the doubt when they display the look of RBF is the best way to promote positive and healthy non-verbal communication, and that starts with a simple smile.

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