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The more people with beards, the less they attract: study

May 20, 2014
Courtesy of the Royal Society
and World Science staff

The more peo­ple with beards, the less at­trac­tive they be­come, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the jour­nal Bi­ol­o­gy Let­ters.

Beards are of­ten said to confer a mas­cu­line or dom­i­nant look, but their role in male at­trac­tiveness is­n’t clear-cut. In stud­ies wom­en have pre­ferred a va­ri­e­ty of looks, from clean-shav­en to fully beard­ed.

Volunteers were pho­to­graphed in var­ious de­grees of beard­ed­ness. (Im­age cour­tesy of the Roy­al So­ciety)


Some­times the ex­ot­ic is at­trac­tive. Male gup­pies with rare col­or pat­terns are more suc­cess­ful at sur­viv­ing as well as mat­ing. Oth­er stud­ies have sug­gested that female blond, brown and red hair varia­t­ions spread ge­o­graph­ic­ally from where they first oc­curred when part­ners pre­ferred nov­el­ty in hair col­ors.

In the new stu­dy, re­search­ers from the Uni­vers­ity of New South Wales in Aus­tral­ia pho­tographed 24 men with var­y­ing de­grees of fa­cial hair: clean-shav­en, with light stub­ble af­ter five days of re-growth, heavy stub­ble af­ter 10, and full beards af­ter they had left their fa­cial hair to grow un­trimmed for at least four weeks. The team col­lat­ed the pho­tos in­to three groups with var­y­ing fre­quen­cy of beard­edness: one with only clean shav­en faces; one with only full beards; and one with six faces be­long­ing to each of the groups. 

Vol­un­teer­s—1,453 wom­en and 213 men—were asked to rank the faces in one of these ran­domly as­signed test groups, then to al­so rate three ad­di­tion­al faces from each of four beard­edness lev­els.

Fa­cial hair was found to have a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on the at­trac­tiveness rat­ings in the sec­ond set of 12. Men sport­ing clean-shav­en faces might now con­sid­er ditch­ing the ra­zor, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors said, as beards, heavy stub­ble and light stub­ble were pre­ferred over clean-shav­en in eve­ry group.

But rar­ity of type was al­so rel­e­vant. Af­ter see­ing a group of faces where beards were rare, par­ti­ci­pants ranked full beards and heavy stub­ble higher. Those who rat­ed the test group with only clean-shav­en faces first found the faces that fol­lowed more at­trac­tive when they sported light or heavy stub­ble. When par­ti­ci­pants had been shown six faces from each of the pho­to groups, those with heavy stub­ble came out on top. So “early adopters” of beard­ed fash­ions could gain an ad­van­tage, but those join­ing the band­wag­on late might not fare as well, the re­search­ers said.


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The more people with beards, the less attractive they become, according to a study published in the journal Biology Letters. Bearded faces are often described as more masculine and dominant, but beards’ role in male attractiveness isn’t clear-cut. In studies women have preferred a variety of looks, from clean-shaven to fully bearded. Sometimes the exotic is attractive. Male guppies with rare color patterns are more successful at surviving as well as mating. Other studies have suggested that female blond, brown and red hair variations spread geographically from where they first occurred when partners preferred novelty in hair colors. In the new study, researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia photographed 24 men with varying degrees of facial hair: clean-shaven, with light stubble after five days of re-growth, heavy stubble after 10, and full beards after they had left their facial hair to grow untrimmed for at least four weeks. The team collated the photos into three groups with varying frequency of beardedness: one with only clean shaven faces; one with only full beards; and one with six faces belonging to each of the groups. Volunteers—1,453 women and 213 men—were asked to rank the faces in one of these randomly assigned test groups, then to also rate three additional faces from each of four beardedness levels. Facial hair was found to have a significant effect on the attractiveness ratings in the second set of 12. Men sporting clean-shaven faces might now consider ditching the razor, the investigators said, as they found that beards, heavy stubble and light stubble were rated better than clean-shaven in every group. But rarity of type was also relevant. After seeing a group of faces where beards were rare, participants ranked full beards and heavy stubble higher. Those who rated the test group with only clean-shaven faces first found the faces that followed more attractive when they sported light or heavy stubble. When participants had been shown six faces from each of the photo groups, those with heavy stubble came out on top. So “early adopters” of bearded fashions could gain an advantage, but those joining the bandwagon late might not fare as well, the researchers said.