Bored With Beards?

By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

walter relighWant that Sir Walter Raleigh look to entice the opposite (or even the same)  sex and alleviate your morning shaving bump ritual? Well, you can avoid the shaving but your attractiveness to the object of your affections might depend more on the frequency of your biological competitor’s facial hair than your own or so says a new study out of Australia. Evolutionary biologist Zinnia Janif wanted to know if  sexual attractiveness was enhanced by facial hair and if so to what degree. Her researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, showed photographs of 36 men who volunteered to grow facial hair for a month to 1453 women and 223 men. The photographs were filmed at identical angles and with exactly similar lighting conditions and depicted the subjects at four stages of growth: clean-shaven, light stubble (5 days), heavy stubble (10 days), and full hipster beard (4 weeks). The female viewers were either heterosexual or bisexual and the male viewers were all heterosexual.

Janif’s premise was that evolutionary biological traits might depend on the frequency of the trait among a given population to decide its advantage or disadvantage. Biologists have long known that some traits don’t depend on the frequency of their occurrence to provide an evolutionary advantage. Things like stronger wings or longer leg bones always provide an advantage for predators in chasing down prey but studies of color variations in guppies suggested that oddball colors were only an advantage to this aquatic prey if the frequency was small. Predators, it seems, get better at deciding what to eat if the differently colored guppies aren’t too numerous. So the advantage of the rare coloration begins to disappear as the trait becomes more common.

Janif and her team asked the survey takers to rate the faces on an attractiveness scale. But like every good study, the researchers threw  the test takers a curve ball. Instead of each survey taker receiving the same set of photographs, Janif directed her researchers to vary the array by changing the frequency of  facial hair observed. Some people saw mostly clean-shaven men, while others saw mostly heavily stubbled or bearded subjects.

And the results showed definitively that beauty lies in the context of the beholder. When the array depicted few subjects with facial hair, those sporting the beards andbeard-generator heavy stubble were rated 20% more attractive than the remainder, but when beards were common in the photo array compared to the clean-shaven faces, the latter got the sexiness bump. The pattern held true for both men and women reviewers and across sexual preference lines.

“This study breaks new ground,” says Peter Frost, an anthropologist at the Interuniversity Centre for Aboriginal Studies and Research in Quebec City, 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],” he says. But hipsters shouldn’t let their beards get too gnarly. “There are certainly limits to this effect,” Frost says. “Something can be novel but also disgusting.”

In the legal profession, beards are fairly rare. In central Virginia, we once had a judge who refused to permit attorneys to practice before him if they sported facial hair. Yes, he was a weird guy. I do notice more and more facial hair features from some in the profession including mustaches and an occasional goatee but the frequency is till low. Our criminal law practicing  brothers seem the most willing to forgo the razor in my unscientific observation but  that varies, too.

Hey! Do you think those guys know about the guppy studies?

So what do you think? Do beards make men more attractive ?

Source: Science

~Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

34 thoughts on “Bored With Beards?”

  1. Rick ~ As Yoda would say, “Low opinion of women have you.”

  2. I was @ a bluegrass festival in Durango last Saturday and saw a few mutton chops. They were cool in the early 70’s. I wore them proudly, but now there is photo evidence. Who cares, we must always analyze history in context.

  3. jonathanturley
    I am just waiting for Burnside-style mutton chops to return. Now that is a manly look.

    about 6 months ago i tried that. most of my life i’ve been told i look like greg allman, so i shaved my chin and neck to look like duane allman.

    didn’t work. people with handle bar mustaches kept challenging me to bare knuckle boxing matches.

  4. I am just waiting for Burnside-style mutton chops to return. Now that is a manly look.

  5. The real dorks are the bald guys who try to make up for it by growing a beard. Like that Federal Reserve guy who is so reserved in his comments about the economy who recently left office. Now if that Yellen guy grows a beard then we are in for it. He is ugly enough.

  6. I have not had facial hair for a 10-15 years. I had a mustache for years until the gray hair came in and it was time to go clean. Annie, what if Bubba’s last name is Gump? 🙂

  7. Paul, One of the biggest liberations a person can experience is not giving a rat’s ass what other people think.

  8. I’m with bettykath. A nicely trimmed beard and mustache can be very nice. Some very handsome men can even carry off the five o’clock shadow thing, but they must have clean hair, all their teeth, a washed face, smell good and not be named Bubba. No long scraggly beards with yesterday’s tomato soup stains, oh noooo.

  9. No manner of biological evolution is relevant to the human species, because that is all controlled by abiotic evolution in third generation solar systems like our own.

    Beards and feathers and fins are fashion only, so I think, like some others up-thread, that the relevant women involved should decide the issue.

    They have a better grasp of fashion than I do.

    1. If you do not think beards serve an important purpose, live in a really cold climate for awhile. Having a beard is a big help. You can count the number of beardless Arctic explorers on less than one hand. Personally, except for my wife, I do not care what other women think or men for that matter.

  10. About 20 years ago an retired homicide detective who worked for me changed my life regarding shaving. Like myself, Ernie had a thick beard. He had this silicone liquid. You just put a few drops on your wet face. The blade just glides. It’s incredible. I’ve been buying it mail order ever since. And, it’s cheap. A $15 bottle lasts 2-3 months.

  11. If you play for the Yankees, no facial hair. I have changed my look over the past 30 years in order to avoid detection. So, I have had all combos of hair from full beard to mustache to goatee to clean shaven to hillbilly mutton chops. Now I just shave once a week. The ~5 day stubble is apparently chic now. Guys actually trim their scruffy 5 day growth to keep that look. Hell, I’m chic a few days a week and could not give a rat’s ass. I think bald men, like myself, tend to look better w/ facial hair.

  12. Take a company like UPS (Big Brown). No facial hair.
    Except for a neat mustache. It’s policy for both
    union and management. Or your fired!

  13. I grew my beard in the Navy — they allowed that in the ’70’s, thanks to Admiral Zumwalt.

    I’ve never been thrown out of court on account of my beard, but when I shaved it off once 20+ years ago, my appearance scared my then-6-year-old daughter to tears. I haven’t been beardless since.

  14. light stubble – usually unattractive. big beard – usually unattractive. neatly trimmed beard – usually attractive. clean shaven – usually attractive.

  15. Because I have a baby-face I have worn a beard since my mid-20s. When I shave it off on occasion, my wife makes me grow it back because she does not recognize me. She thinks a strange man with my voice is wandering around the house. 🙂

  16. Light stubble after 5 days? Heavy after 10? I wish I didn’t have to shave that infrequently.

  17. My husband grew a beard this winter after he retired from his job in Texas. It is now gone, and he looks much younger. I vote no with few exceptions. He has his law license in our new location and we are getting ready to start a new venture sans beard.

  18. Mark,
    When I started growing my beard, at first my wife made comments to the effect that she did not approve. A couple of years later, I made some comment that I was going to shave it off. Her reaction was, “Don’t you dare.”

    She said that kissing a man without a beard would be like eating a cookie without the chocolate chips. I guess we know how she would have voted in your poll.

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