Why ‘Resting B*tch Face’ Research May Have Been A Tad Unfair To Kanye West

The face is not the window to the soul, especially for people suffering from Resting B*tch Face (RBF), an age-old phenomenon that has only recently acquired a snazzy name.

Those “suffering” from it are easily recognizable. They may be your colleagues, your friends, your relatives — it may be you in all your photographs.

It’s that grumpy, faintly contemptuous, totally bored look some people have, a look that promises to deflate all the good cheer around. Yes, that’s the Resting B*tch Face. And contrary to the nomenclature, it’s gender-neutral. The Queen has it, and so does Kanye West.

Here’s a 2013 Broken People video about the condition (with an alternate name: “B*tchy Resting Face”).

Now, science has jumped into the RBF fray too, as per a report in the Washington Post. Behavioural researchers Abbe Macbeth and Jason Rogers from Netherland’s Noldus Information Technology have utilised the services of a software called FaceReader to analyse the myriad nuances of the Resting B*tch Face.

And the verdict is clear.

“These [RBF] faces are not actually displaying contempt. It just looks like contempt to the viewer,” states the blog post by Macbeth and Rogers on the Noldus website.

That essentially means everyone who has a permanently disgruntled expression on their faces can relax now and not be defensive about how their faces look. Science is looking out for them.

Now for the specifics.

This is how the FaceReader software actually works: A person’s neutral-expression photograph (or video) is fed into FaceReader, and it analyzes whether the person has RBF or not.

Out of all the emotional expressions that the software looks for and analyses, including happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, and contempt, it is the amount of contempt displayed in the data that decides if the subject suffers from a Resting B*tch Face.

According to Macbeth and Rogers, the percentage of contempt in normal, non-RBF faces is very low, but the figure spikes considerably in faces displaying RBF, almost doubling from their normal levels. And this difference is noticed immediately by the viewer, even on a subconscious level.

“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.”

As part of their research, the Noldus team fed the FaceReader photos of celebrities purported to be the torchbearers of RBF. These included Queen Elizabeth, Kristen Stewart, the girls in the Broken People video, and Kanye West.

This is how Kanye’s photo appeared inside the FaceReader software, undergoing facial analysis:

Kanye West and FaceReader Software

The researchers’ verdict post the analysis — though they didn’t categorically state so — clearly implies that Kanye has a non-neutral, RBF visage.

“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. Indeed, FaceReader registers those minute amounts of contempt that are simply not present in non-RBF ‘neutral’ faces.”

On the face of it, the Noldus’ RBF research seems like a fun, pop-culture detour from what they usually do in the field of behavioral research. Although if you give a less-than-cursory glance at their site and read up about their FaceReader software, it becomes apparent that FaceReader is a product for sale.

“FaceReader is used worldwide at more than 400 universities, research institutes, and companies in many markets, such as consumer behavior research, usability studies, psychology, educational research, and market research,” reads their website’s FaceReader page.

So the entire Resting B*tch Face research, if you look at it from a less-flattering angle, may come across as a smart, creative plug for their product. With Kanye West’s face caught literally in its web.

Which begs the question, why only Kanye?

Kristen Stewart has Queen Elizabeth, the Broken People girls, and researcher Macbeth herself for company, but Kanye is the sole male celebrity going through the FaceReader grinder. Perhaps it’s time now for the researchers to spread their net more widely, ensuring a more balanced and equitable representation of male celebrities in the Resting B*tch Face pantheon.

If it were in your power to choose, which male celeb would you want to be analysed by FaceReader for sure signs of Resting B*tch Face?

[Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]