No, “Resting Bitch Face” Isn’t Associated With Higher Incomes
Wealthy people actually look happier than the rest of us.
Today, in “fine, I’ll click that link,” we go to BravoTV.com:
“The way your face just sits there when you’re not paying attention” may be my new favorite turn of phrase. I’m not sure my face ever just sits there, though. Right now, I can feel my face actively working, especially around my eyes and my mouth. I’m literally saying these words aloud as I type them. (This is why I work at home.)
But back to resting bitch faces. What does this study suggest?
The study split subjects ages 18 to 22 into two groups — those with total family incomes under $60,000, and those with incomes above $100,000. The individuals then had to pose for pictures without expressing any emotion at all. A separate group of subjects was asked to look at the faces and decide whether they were rich or poor. All were able to guess peoples finances correctly with roughly 53 percent accuracy, which is “above random chance.”
I’m really curious whether they scrubbed the faces of any visual cues that might determine income—like, did they wash everyone’s makeup off and ask them to remove jewelry? Did they ask people to keep their lips closed, since teeth are often a socioeconomic indicator?
It’s time for me to GO TO THE SOURCE!
Here’s an excerpt from the abstract:
To better understand how people infer others’ social class, we therefore tested the legibility of class (operationalized as monetary income) from facial images, finding across 4 participant samples and 2 stimulus sets that perceivers categorized the faces of rich and poor targets significantly better than chance. Further investigation showed that perceivers categorize social class using minimal facial cues and employ a variety of stereotype-related impressions to make their judgments.
I don’t see anything in there about “resting bitch face,” although I’m not at all surprised to learn that people make judgments based on stereotypes.
When you read the full study—which I did—you learn that they actually ran multiple tests. Their first set of tests pulled images from “web-based dating advertisements of people between the ages of 18 and 35 in major US cities, all without facial hair or adornments.” (I’m assuming they mean profile photos and not actual dating advertisements.) They cropped the photos just around the face, removing “hair, ears, and chin,” and grayscaled the images.
Then they had people categorize each face as “rich” or “poor” and compare that categorization with the individual’s self-reported income. Which… um… people on dating sites lie about a lot of stuff, including how much money they earn. But even taking that into account, the study team did a lot of work and tried to isolate a large number of variables; they tested the faces for health indicators and personality indicators, they tested just the eyes and just the mouths, they tested faces for attractiveness and tried to determine whether rich people were perceived as more attractive (spoiler alert: yes).
The most interesting result from the dating site test? The more money the tester had, the more people they were likely to categorize as “poor.” Wealth, after all, is relative.
After they did the dating photo test, they did a bunch of other tests using photos of Canadian undergraduates making “neutral” facial expressions, in order to determine whether neutral faces give off socioeconomic cues because of, say, years of tension stored in the muscles. (If you worry about money, it shows up on your face even when you’re making a neutral expression. Or so the theory goes.)
When they did the neutral-face test, they found that wealth was correlated with what they called “positivity,” which I am assuming means not having resting bitch face. This is the opposite of what Bravo states in its headline, and Bravo even confirms this in its article when it quotes the study’s abstract:
Indeed, neutrally posed rich targets displayed more positive affect relative to poor targets and perceivers used this affective information to categorize their social class.
So why did Bravo claim that resting bitch face was correlated with wealth, when it looks like higher-income individuals are more likely to have positive neutral expressions? I’ll quote the study’s conclusion:
We also found evidence that one may mask one’s social class by displaying a positive emotional expression. Appearing happier (or less negative) may lead others to perceive a person as higher-class (at least within the context of some less happy-looking people). Future research should investigate this possibility more thoroughly.
To appear rich, either look happier or surround yourself with grumps. That’s the clickbait headline, y’all.
Support The Billfold