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Do you have ‘Resting Bitch Face?’ This Leesburg researcher has the answer

Abbe Macbeth of Leesburg is one of two researchers behind the “Resting Bitch Face” study that has become a viral sensation. Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
Most women would prefer not to have their name associated with the term "bitch," but Leesburg's Abbe Macbeth has waited months for the recognition.

In the first week of February, it finally came.

A mother of two and researcher at Noldus Information Technology, Macbeth is one of two people behind the ubiquitous Resting Bitch Face (RBF) study, which has been reported on by dozens of major media outlets over the past 10 days, including first by the Washington Post, followed by CNN, New York Magazine, Yahoo Health, Fox News, Cosmopolitan and on and on the list goes.

“We never thought it would take off the way it has,” Macbeth said in an interview with the Times-Mirror.

Some readers, presumably the non-millennials, may be asking, “What's Resting Bitch Face?”

Non-scientifically, it's an affliction one suffers when their regular, expressionless face appears angry or full of contempt. It's meant to be more a lighthearted poke -- a joke rather than a true, cruel insult.

Internet memes of RBF, also known as Bitchy Resting Face, have superabounded on social media in recent years, with actress Kristen Stewart, artist Kanye West and Queen Elizabeth taking starring roles.

So Macbeth and Noldus research partner, Jason Rogers of Cincinnati, decided to use their company's FaceReader software to determine just who has Resting Bitch Face and why.

FaceReader is capable of reading more than 500 points on the face to determine eight basic emotional expressions: happy, angry, sad, scared, surprised, disgusted, contempt and neutral. These emotions are displayed by people of all races, genders and ages.

“Since these ‘basic’ emotions were identified over 50 years ago, researchers have added additional universally-displayed emotions to the list,” the researchers wrote. “One of these later additions, [contempt], remains something of an enigma. Not treated as a universal expression until the 1990s, the emotion of contempt elicits strong debate.”

After running expressionless faces through FaceReader, Macbeth and Rogers established a baseline of about 97 percent “expression neutrality.”

They then ran the likes of Kanye, the Queen and Kristen Stewart through the system. The level of contempt more than tripled and dropped the neutrality down to 94 percent.

“What emerged rather quickly was that across faces the amount of anger, sadness, and fear displayed were highly variable … but to the surprise of the research team, one emotion continued to rear its ugly head: the dreaded contempt,” the researchers noted.

A key finding from Macbeth and Rogers discovered that men are just as likely to suffer from RBF as women, something that goes against the sexist notion that women make up the majority of RBF sufferers.

“It's nice that we are able to say our software is gender-neutral,” Macbeth said. “We can pick this up in men's faces, as well. The RBF memes you see on the Internet are more from a social construct.”

Macbeth and Rogers's research was posted on Noldus's website last October, where it received minimal attention for several months.

But after the Post flashed the must-click headline “Scientists have discovered what causes Resting Bitch Face” on its website Feb. 2, social media and the web took over.

“It has been a crazy week,” Macbeth said. “This has been far past any expectation I had – this worldwide interest in something that was started really as kind of a lark.”

Not everyone is following and posting about the study online, however.

“My parents, they asked me to print out the article and mail it to them,” Macbeth said.

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @TrevorBaratko.


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