Women often find men with beards to be sexy, more masculine and more attractive than clean-shaven men. However, a recent study published in the Royal Society Biology Letters has thrown a curveball that alters this observation.
Researchers have found that when there is an abundance of men sporting beards, then having a beard is perceived as being less attractive.
Previous studies testing women’s facial hair preferences have shown that a variety of types of facial hair or lack of facial hair have been found to be alluring.
In some studies it was a full beard and in others it has been a light layer of stubble or a heavy layer of stubble. Pinpointing exactly what the look was that appeared to be attractive has been inconsistent.
Researchers from the University of New South Wales hypothesized that it was not the presence or lack of a beard that made a man attractive but how rare it was to see a man with a beard.
So, when fashion trends or style influences many men to have beards, then the attractiveness of a beard was found to be less desirable than when women less frequently encounter a man who has a beard.
To test this hypothesis, researchers photographed 36 men with different levels of beardedness.
Each man was photographed four times as clean-shaven, with light stubble after 5 days of re-growth, with heavy stubble after 10 days, and with full beards that had grown untrimmed for at least four weeks.
The team sorted the photos into three groups based on beardedness.
One group contained photos of all the clean-shaven men. The next was only the full-bearded men. The last contained photos of each of the original four groups, representing all types of men with or without facial hair.
The volunteers, 1,453 women and 213 men, were asked to rank the attractiveness of men in photos.
Randomly assigned, the volunteers ranked the attractiveness of one of the three groups that contained 12 photos. They either looked at men who were all clean-shaven, all full bearded or a mixed group with photos from all four groups of men.
Then the participants were shown a second group of 12 photos that contained pictures of men with an assortment of bearded or unbearded faces. Each group viewed the exact same 12 photos in this round.
The volunteers, who had seen the clean-shaven faces first, found full beards and heavy stubble more attractive than light stubble. Those who had seen beards in their first group then favored clean-shaven faces.
The outcome of this study showed that people favored an appearance that was more rare. Beards are perceived as more attractive if not many men have them. Clean-shaven is perceived as more attractive if not many men are completely shaving their faces.
“This study breaks new ground,” said Peter Frost, an anthropologist at the Interuniversity Centre for Aboriginal Studies and Research in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
Although previous studies have shown that people prefer novelty for certain traits, such as the color of clothing, this study shows “that the novelty effect applies not only to colors but also to other visible features [of the body]”.
Scientists warn we've hit 'peak beard': The more people grow facial hair, the less attractive it is. The Independent.co.uk. Retrieved April 22, 2014.
To beard or not to beard. The Royal Society. Retrieved April 22, 2014.
Are Beards About to Die Out? The American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved April 22, 2014.
Beards: Too Hip For Their Own Good. IFLscience.com. Retrieved April 22, 2014.
Zinnia J. Janif et al. Negative frequency-dependent preferences and variation in male facial hair. Published 16 April 2014 doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0958. Biol. Lett. April 2014 vol. 10 no. 4 20130958.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles
Edited by Jody Smith