New research suggests that beards offer more to women than originally thought. The recently published article explains the evolutionary significance of beards and the hidden adaptive information behind them.
Whatever happened to the rough and ready warriors of the past; those masculine soldiers of the ancient civilisations wearing their beards with pride into battle and wooing the ladies with their bravery? It would seem that everyone had a beard back then, but now it has become ever more obscure as history has gone on.
With the introduction of razors and electric shavers, it has never been so easy to trim. In some walks of life today, it is seen as a necessity to shave the roughage in order to manifest one’s ability to groom himself. The importance of a clean-shave has never been higher.
However, researchers in Australia claim that a male’s facial hair can tell women a lot more than just how much he cares for grooming. Barnaby Dixson, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of New South Wales, and Prof. Robert Brooks, also of the University of New South Wales, explain that facial hair can have a large impact on the socio-sexual status of a male.
Their article, "The role of facial hair in women's perceptions of men's attractiveness, health, masculinity and parenting abilities" was published in April 2013 in the Evolution & Human Behaviour journal.
Past research by John Archer in 2009, discussed by Dixson and Brooks, has suggested that androgen-dependent physical qualities are linked to masculine traits, such as health, dominance and competitive ability. Furthermore, such traits are positively related to higher reproductive success.
The beard is one such example. Based upon previous research by Valerie Anne Randall in 2008, Dixson and Brooks explain that the beard is a “highly sexually dimorphic androgen-dependent trait that varies markedly among men". As much as some men like to keep their beard at bay, others like to let it all out.
So does a bit of barb affect a woman’s perception of such traits? Dixson and Brooks carried out a study to investigate how something as physically simple as facial hair can alter a woman’s perception of a male’s attractiveness, health, masculinity and parenting abilities.
Female participants were asked to rate the attractiveness, healthiness, masculinity and parenting abilities of 10 different males with varying facial hair intensity. Participants saw 4 clean-shaven faces, 2 faces with light stubble, 2 faces with heavy stubble and 2 faces with a full beard, at random.
The results of the study confirmed that beardedness does indeed influence the judgment of attractiveness, health, masculinity and parenting abilities. Female participants rated those with heavy stubble as more attractive than their full-bearded and clean-shaven counterparts, whilst men with full beards were interpreted as better parents and more masculine.
So it seems that even in a world where the razor rules, women still have a soft spot for bearded men. Though growing a beard may decrease one’s job prospects in the socially pressured world of today, it could well increase one’s dating prospects.
What is not so clear is what type of beard is most effective. Does density play a part in the attractiveness of a beard? Does the pattern alter perceived masculinity? Future research has many avenues to take to find the answer, and until then, it cannot be certain. But one thing is for sure: I’d better get growing.