My husband likes to let his beard grow in. In this way, he’s like a lot of young(ish) men you might find these days on sports fields and in hipster bars. The hairy look has even had its day in Hollywood — in the run-up to the 2010 Oscars, my Los Angeles Times colleagues Chris Lee and John Horn pondered who should win the Oscar for best beard.
“A new style muse for the entertainment industry's alpha males has emerged,” they wrote: “Grizzly Adams.”
Now the psychologists are chiming in — and the news isn’t great for the hirsute ones. In a recent experiment, Paul Vasey of Canada’s University of Lethbridge and Barnaby Dixson of New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington found that while beards may be stylish, and are probably a mark of alpha males, they aren’t necessarily a key tool for attracting the ladies.
“Women … do not rate bearded faces as more attractive than clean-shaven faces,” the researchers wrote in the journal Behavioral Ecology.
To assess how beards affected perceptions of men’s age, attractiveness, social status and aggressiveness, Vasey and Dixson showed people of European descent in New Zealand as well as Polynesians in Samoa pictures of the same men, with and without full beards, as they displayed neutral, smiling and angry facial expressions.
Both men and women said that with beards, the men looked older and more aggressive than they did with their beards shaved. The viewers also ascribed higher social status to the men when they were bearded than when they were baby-faced. Women said that the clean-shaven faces were more attractive than the whiskery ones.
Vasey and Dixson wrote that their research suggested that beards did not evolve in early humans because women found bearded men more attractive (as Charles Darwin believed). Rather, natural selection favored bearded faces because hairier men were more successful at conveying aggression and securing loftier social status.
The scarier guys, not the cuter ones, got the girls.
“These findings suggest that beards play a stronger role in signaling a man’s age, social status and potential threat than in augmenting physical attractiveness,” they wrote.
But don't worry, hubby. I still think you’re cute.