Suffering from ‘calm grumpy face’? Science offers a simple solution

“Resting bitch face” has been the subject of millions of memes, parody videoscelebrities singersand feminist complaints† But always looking grumpy, even when you’re not, isn’t just another very online joke. According to science, it’s actually a real phenomenon, and one that’s relevant to business leaders.

The science of RBF

When researchers at Noldus Information Technology ran images of people with neutral facial expressions through a sophisticated software program designed to objectively detect emotions, the computer confirmed what we all observed. Some people just can’t help but look grumpy all the time.

When the team “plugged in photos of RBF all-stars Kanye West, Kristen Stewart and Queen Elizabeth” into the computer, “the level of emotion detected by the software suddenly doubled, reported the Washington Post

And the software felt no joy or surprise. “The big change in percentage came from ‘contempt,'” study researcher Abbe Macbeth told the paper.

Cue more online sniggering. But as fun as it may be to make fun of other people’s mean expressions, there’s a serious side to the resting bitch. Appearing angry or contemptuous all the time can be a real problem when you’re trying to lead a team.

“Has anyone around you ever seemed nervous and you didn’t understand why? Do people often think you disapprove of them, even if you don’t?’ UC Berkeley Haas School of Business psychologist Dana R. Carney asks in one: award-winning paper On body language improvements for managers

If you answered yes to these questions, the problem isn’t just in your head, she reassures readers. Instead, it’s what she politely calls “calm grumpy face.” Something about squinting, holding your mouth, or furrowing your eyebrows conveys to others that you are intimidating, judgmental, or disapproving — even if you’re not one of those things.

RBF might be on-brand if you’re a selfish rapper or a haughty fashion designer, but when you’re trying to lure top talent, inspire a team, or win a room, it seems like you’re super unimpressed with your audience. be a problem. This can be a particular problem for female entrepreneurs who are culturally expected to be warmer and more caring, such as: this one filled with anecdotes New York Times article about what it is like to suffer from RBF.

There’s little you can do about your facial features other than surgery (although one of the women in the article above swears by Botox), and even facial expressions that are theoretically controllable are incredibly difficult to unlearn as an adult. But Carney insists there’s something you can do if you’re afraid of coming across as cranky in a specific situation. Instead of trying to change what you do with your face, change what you do with your hands.

The solution is an arm’s length away.

Scientists recently showed study participants two photos of the same squinting, grumpy-looking man. In one, he just stares straight into the camera. In the other he channels the famous sculpture, The Thinkerand clasps his chin with his thumb and forefinger as if pondering deep thoughts.

The man in the first photo with full RBF was judged by the participants as dumber, meaner and more judgmental. But when he moved his hand to his chin, he seemed “nicer, more thoughtful, less judgmental, higher on self-control and more intelligent,” Carney reports. By simply moving your hand to your chin, the way others read your facial expression instantly changes from biting to thoughtful.

Of course, if you’re a restless, grumpy face, you can’t walk around 24/7 with your hand glued to your face. But this strategy is useful for those occasions when you want to make sure you don’t come across as cold-hearted, such as selling a candidate at your company, receiving feedback from a mentor, or closing a tough deal.

Remember that if you feel like your face is giving others the wrong impression, you can always soften your expression by simply moving your hand.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not’s.

Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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