Country star Miranda Lambert has an interesting theory on why fans don’t bother her when she steps out in public: her so-called resting bitch face (RBF).
In her first interview in more than a year, Lambert tells the Bobby Bones Radio Show that “I kind of have this, what do you call it, RBF,” she said. “I don’t mean to, though — I just do my thing and drink Miller Lite and hang out with my friends.”
Resting bitch face, a phenomenon that gained Internet notoriety in recent years, is a facial expression that’s relaxed yet still emotes annoyance or judgment, even when the person isn’t trying to convey an emotion. Celebrities such as Queen Elizabeth II and Victoria Beckham have been slapped with the label, and Anna Kendrick even told James Corden that she’s often embarrassed by her facial expression in photos. “Oh, my God, what’s wrong with me?” she joked. Kristen Stewart became so tired of the association that she addressed it in an interview with Elle U.K., saying, “The whole smiling thing is weird because I actually smile a lot.”
An oft-quoted study conducted by psychologist Dr. Albert Mehrabian in 1971 found that 55 percent of information is communicated by nonverbal cues (facial expression, movements), while only 7 percent is verbal.
So it’s not surprising that modern-day scientists have put time and money into studying RBF. In 2015, Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth, behavioral researchers at the firm Noldus Information Technology, used facial reading software to define the look.
They analyzed the expressions of 10,000 resting human faces, including the above celebrities, and assigned each with an emotion (for example, happiness, sadness, contempt). The most common emotion detected was contempt, identified by “one side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little,” Rogers told the Washington Post. Added Macbeth, “It’s kind of a tightening around the eyes, and a little bit of raising of the corners of the lips — but not into a smile.”
Vanity aside, people with RBF are often unfairly judged. One study published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences found that people who carry this expression are victims of “face-ism,” in that they’re deemed less trustworthy than those with softer resting expressions.
On the upside, a statistician at Texas Woman’s University credits her own RBF to her career success, writing in Quartz of RBF sufferers: “We must also quickly develop a strong sense of self-awareness. This self-awareness allows you to adapt quickly in volatile or unfamiliar situations — an invaluable trait when presenting before a room full of strangers or superiors, for example.”
She continued, “And then there’s the empathy factor. Women used to being constantly misunderstood focus more on the words someone says, rather than their tone, body cues, or facial expressions, ensuring a more effective flow of information between both parties.”
RBF is largely associated with women, thanks to sexist attitudes that dictate that women who don’t smile are unlikable. However, men aren’t quite off the hook. In Rogers and Macbeth’s study, RBF was detected in both men and women. Sorry, Kanye West.
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