TORONTO – Fellas, you’ve got a decision to make. If you want to look older and garner respect from other men, keep your beard. But if you want women to find you attractive, you should consider shaving.
That’s the advice researchers from Canada and New Zealand are doling out in a new study on the appeal of beards published in the Oxford Journal of Behavioral Psychology.
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The scientists recruited 19 men – 10 of European descent and nine who were Samoan – for their study. The men were photographed first with full beards that had not been shaved or trimmed for at least six weeks and then for a second time when they were clean-shaven. In both instances, the men were asked to stand in a neutral pose, smiling and with an angry facial expression.
The researchers, led by Paul Vasey of Alberta’s University of Lethbridge and New Zealand anthropologist Barnaby Dixson, used controlled lighting and a Canon digital camera.
The photos were then shown to 229 women in Samoa and New Zealand and results showed that across the board, respondents’ attractiveness ratings were “significantly higher” for the clean-shaven faces compared to beards.
The researchers also noted that older women liked beards more than younger women, a finding that reflects previous studies.
When about 130 men, also from Samoa and New Zealand, were shown the photos, the researchers say respondents found the bearded faces as more aggressive.
The researchers emphasized the fact that both men and women in Samoa and New Zealand rated the photos in the same way. While New Zealand respondents are likely influenced by Western media, those in Samoa, a small island nation with less exposure to Hollywood movies, magazines and even Internet access, also had similar responses.
Overall, both sexes said bearded men looked older, appeared to have a higher social status and earned more respect from men.
The scientific community has pointed to different explanations as to why men have beards, such as keeping germs away from the mouth to protecting sensitive skin from sunlight.
Vasey and Dixson say that Charles Darwin speculated that beards evolved in our ancestors because women found facial hair attractive.
“Taken together this research suggests that the beard did not evolve because women prefer male mates with beards. Rather, the results are consistent with the conclusion that beards evolved because they signal a male’s age, status and augment displays of aggressiveness, all of which would have been helpful in repelling rival males in mating context,” Vasey said in an email to Global News.
The researchers say that the beard was probably used to measure masculinity and aggressiveness among men. The report says it probably “intimidated” other men by making jaws appear larger and faces longer.
But another study could offer some middle ground for men.
The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom points to another piece of research that suggests light stubble gets the highest ratings from women.