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Evolution and Human Behavior 34 (2013) 236–241

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Evolution and Human Behavior
journal homepage: www.ehbonline.org

Original Article

The role of facial hair in women's perceptions of men's attractiveness, health,
masculinity and parenting abilities
Barnaby J. Dixson ⁎, Robert C. Brooks
Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Kensington, Sydney 2052 NSW, Australia

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Facial hair strongly influences people's judgments of men's socio-sexual attributes. However, the nature of
Initial receipt 23 August 2012 these judgments is often contradictory. The levels of intermediate facial hair growth presented to raters and
Final revision received 24 February 2013 the stage of female raters' menstrual cycles might have influenced past findings. We quantified men's and
women's judgments of attractiveness, health, masculinity and parenting abilities for photographs of men who
were clean-shaven, lightly or heavily stubbled and fully bearded. We also tested the effect of the menstrual
Sexual selection
Human evolution
cycle and hormonal contraceptive use on women's ratings. Women judged faces with heavy stubble as most
Facial hair attractive and heavy beards, light stubble and clean-shaven faces as similarly less attractive. In contrast, men
rated full beards and heavy stubble as most attractive, followed closely by clean-shaven and light stubble as
least attractive. Men and women rated full beards highest for parenting ability and healthiness. Masculinity
ratings increased linearly as facial hair increased, and this effect was more pronounced in women in the fertile
phase of the menstrual cycle, although attractiveness ratings did not differ according to fertility. Our findings
confirm that beardedness affects judgments of male socio-sexual attributes and suggest that an intermediate
level of beardedness is most attractive while full-bearded men may be perceived as better fathers who could
protect and invest in offspring.
© 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction (Addison, 1989; Neave & Shields, 2008). However, associations
between other personality traits and beards are highly polarized. On
Androgen-dependent facial and bodily traits are positively associ- the one hand, bearded men are ascribed positive attributes such as
ated with men's health (Thornhill & Gangestad, 2006), immunity self-confidence, courage, sincerity, generosity and industriousness
(Rantala et al., 2012), dominance and competitive ability (Archer, (Kenny & Fletcher, 1973; Pellegrini, 1973; Hellström & Tekle, 1994).
2009). Masculine men may also achieve greater mating and repro- On the other hand, beards are judged as less socially appeasing and
ductive success (Rhodes, Simmons, & Peters, 2005). Yet averaged more aggressive (Addison, 1989; Muscarella & Cunningham, 1996;
across experiments, women either prefer less masculine faces (Perrett Neave & Shields, 2008).
et al., 1998) or weakly prefer masculine faces (Rhodes, 2006). Findings on the attractiveness of facial hair are equally mixed. In
However, women's preferences for facial cues of masculinity vary, some cases full beards increased male attractiveness (Pellegrini, 1973;
growing strongest when men are rated for short-term relationships Hatfield & Sprecher, 1986; Reed & Blunk, 1990), while others found
(Little, Connely, Feinberg, Jones, & Roberts, 2011), and during the most they did not (Feinman & Gill, 1977; Wogalter & Hosie, 1991;
fertile part of their menstrual cycle (Gangestad & Thornhill, 2008). Muscarella & Cunningham, 1996; Dixson & Vasey, 2012). These
The beard is a highly sexually dimorphic androgen-dependent trait mixed findings may have resulted, in part, from using written
that varies markedly among men (Randall, 2008). While this implies a questionnaires (Feinman & Gill, 1977), fake beards (Wood, 1986) or
sexually selected origin for beardedness, there is no consensus on the facial hair created using make-up pencils (Muscarella & Cunningham,
relative importance of female mate choice and male-male competi- 1996). Where natural photographs have been used, typically only full
tion in shaping facial hair. Given that facial hair growth begins at beards or clean-shaven faces were presented (e.g. Dixson & Vasey,
puberty and continues throughout adulthood, it is not surprising 2012), which does not capture variation in men's ability to grow facial
that beards augment perceptions of maturity and masculinity hair. Interestingly, Neave and Shields (2008) found using computer-
generated images that varied in grades of facial hair that light stubble
was most attractive to women.
⁎ Corresponding author. Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological,
In the present study, a sample of men, each of whom were
Earth & Environmental Sciences, The University of New South Wales, Kensington,
Sydney 2052 NSW, Australia. photographed as clean-shaven, lightly stubbled, heavily stubbled and
E-mail address: b.dixson@unsw.edu.au (B.J. Dixson). fully bearded, were rated for attractiveness, healthiness, masculinity

1090-5138/$ – see front matter © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Photographs were taken using a There was a significant main effect of facial hair and a significant Canon digital camera (8. whether they were pregnant. Materials and methods percent of the female sample were bisexual and were retained. Conversely.5 0.55 12 515 b0. Statistical analyses dominance and threat (Dixson & Vasey.58 2. as was the order in which faces were presented.078 1.23 1 526 0.053 Attractiveness 5.1 b0.4. After completing the ratings participants provided details clean-shaven. are known to become stronger during the late follicular. Their inclusion 2.02 2. masculinity and parenting ability ratings attractive than clean-shaven faces but that a threshold of masculinity were dependent variables in a MANOVA where facial hair was the may be preferred. B. Analysis 1: Male and female perceptions of beardedness masculine partner can be realized (Gangestad & Thornhill.2% were Native were photographed in each of four conditions in the following order: American.57 years).9 1548.9 1525.023 0.50 ± 32.8% were African.040 Attractivenessa 7.005 Parentinga 44.4.80 12 515 0.5 b0.8 1491.biz. Dixson.9 1548.040 F dfn dfd P ηp2 F dfn dfd P η p2 MANOVA 25.010 Health 1. masculinity and parenting abilities using six-point Likert scales (0 = very low–5 = Fig.9 1521.005 a Greenhouse–Geisser adjusted df (rounded to one decimal place).2.8 1491. period of the menstrual cycle when any benefits of mating with a more 2. Thus. all Table 1 Multivariate repeated-measures analysis of variance of the effects of facial hair and sex on perceptual ratings. we predicted that women may judge more bearded faces to be more Attractiveness. participant under controlled lighting. Men posed smiles generated using the Facial Action Coding System 2.053 F dfn dfd P η p2 MANOVA 7.087 0. more fertile. Which faces were assigned to which condition was determined at random for each participant. as they are sexually attracted to men as well as women.631 0. An example of the stimuli used in this study.C. women.349 0.1 0. Middle Eastern or Australasian and 5.1. 2012).6 b0.001 Between-subject effects Sex Pillai's trace 0.6 0.267 0. 8. of 3.30 4 523 0. Stimuli did not interact with any dependent variables (all P values ≥ 0.9 1525.18 ± 10. & Hager.0 megapixels resolution). We predicted that men would judge full beards more favorably than women because of the strong role of beards in judgments of social 2. The final sample size was 177 heterosexual men (mean age ± SD = Ten men of European descent (mean age ± SD = 23.2.66 2. Within-subject effects Facial hair Facial hair × sex Pillai's trace 0. were post-menopausal or used hormonal contraceptives. heavy stubble and a full beard. health.002 Healtha 14.053 0. 1. 1.045 0.001 0. Friesen. Women's preferences for masculine traits Analysis 2 were entered as between-subject factors.51.J. . sex. Female participants also stated how many days ago their most recent menstrual bleeding began. with lightly stubbled faces considered most attractive within-subject factor.23 years). on their age.67 1 526 0.001 0. Analysis 1: Participants greater masculinity would be more attractive at the period of the Self-identified homosexual and asexual participants were exclud- menstrual cycle when conception is more likely. light stubble and full beards (all t351 ≥ 3.249). 2002). 2008). Analysis 1: Results (Ekman. Images show the same man when very high).bodylab. 5 days (light stubble) and 10 days of beard growth (heavy stubble). 2008). Subjects rated each face for attractiveness. clean-shaven. as were female participants that were pregnant.4 0. healthiness.1.4. clean-shaven.30 years) and 351 women (27.74 2.013 2.103 0. Brooks / Evolution and Human Behavior 34 (2013) 236–241 237 2.09 2.57 2. Sex in Analysis 1 and reproductive status in (after Neave & Shields.373 1.005 Masculinitya 50. in Analysis 2 we tested the prediction that heavier stubble and hence 2.03 2.4 b0.001 0. Procedure Studies were completed online at www.002 Masculinity 2. Images were cropped so only Women rated heavy stubble as significantly more attractive than the face and neck were shown (Fig.001 0. with 4 faces clean-shaven and 2 faces in each of the other three categories of facial hair.4% were Asian. Eight 2.001 0.19 2.9% were European.84 1 526 0. 150 cm from the sex × facial hair interaction for attractiveness ratings (Table 1).9 1521. ethnicity and sexual orientation. R. ed from analyses.000 0. with light stubble.373 0.7% fully bearded (at least 6 weeks without shaving). each of whom had dark brown head and facial hair whom 79.94 ± 8. Participants viewed each of the 10 faces once. Analysis 1 compared ratings between men and hormonal contraceptives. with elected not to define their ethnicity.011 Parenting 5.3. 1).016 0.026 2.17 1 526 0.050 0. 4. post-menopausal or using and parenting abilities.

56 2. health (C) and masculinity (D). Mean ratings (+SD) for clean-shaven.9 1288.83 2.968.07 2 439 0.10 8 874 0.9 1264. However. In contrast.9 1267.72 12 428 b0.081 1.18 2.051 0.274) or heavy clean-shaven as more attractive than light stubble (all t176 ≥ 2.05).48 2 439 0.26 5.83.005).364 0.8 1264.8 1267. Within-subject effects Facial hair Facial hair × fertility Pillai's trace 0. 2A). but not for light (t526 = 1.740 0. Dixson.306 0. the only main effect of sex was for parenting Table 2 Multivariate repeated-measures analysis of variance of the effects of facial hair and fertility on ratings.001 0.17.112 2. P = 0.071 F dfn dfd P ηp2 F dfn dfd P ηp2 MANOVA 32.238 B.04.20 5. Fig.001 0.C. P b 0. heavy stubble and full beards when judging physical attractiveness (A).0 b0.139 0.001).4 b0.07 5.09. .478 1.018 0.9 1284. men rated full beards.000 Health 0.001 0.009 Between-subject effects Fertility Pillai's trace 0.05 5.08 2. light stubble.32 24 858 0. 2.010 Attractiveness 0. Men gave higher attractiveness ratings than women for full Facial hair significantly affected ratings of parenting abilities.007 1.619 0.005 Healtha 3.9 0. and masculinity.013 a Greenhouse–Geisser adjusted df (rounded to one decimal place). P b 0.036 Attractivenessa 8.6 0.002 Parenting 0.931 0.379 0.6 b0.9 1288. parenting skills (B). Brooks / Evolution and Human Behavior 34 (2013) 236–241 Fig.0 0.059 0.003) and clean-shaven faces (t526 = 2.00 2 439 0.952 0. P = 0. R. White bars show female ratings and gray bars show male ratings.97.024 0.478 0.005 Masculinitya 55.J.001 0.4 0. all stubble (t526 = 0.020 F dfn dfd P ηp2 MANOVA 1.001 Parentinga 38. heavy stubble and P = 0. health beards (t526 = 2. P = 0.9 0.30 2 439 0.001 Masculinity 3.9 1284.

56. all P b 0. 3. 2C) and increased linearly as facial hair increased.05). P = 0.5. all P b 0.001. Women's mean ratings (+SD) for clean-shaven. Full beards menstrual bleeding between 0 and 28 days ago were used. Fig.81. between sex and facial hair for health ratings (Table 1).121. Fig. Analysis 2: Participants Irrespective of fertility. B. A total faces (t441 = 0. health and masculinity (Table 2).63 years). P = 0. There were no other interaction effects involving sex parenting abilities. significantly higher ratings than clean-shaven. P N 0. with full beards receiving masculinity (all t527 ≥ 3. Analysis 2: Female fertility and perceptions of beardedness participants (t280 = 3. apart hair categories for parenting abilities (all t527 ≥ 6.91.67. parenting skills (B).2. 3A). 2C). health (C) and masculinity (D). 3C). Rated masculinity Fig. all Facial hair significantly affected women's ratings of attractiveness.94 years) and 160 women used hormonal contra.001. 2. 2B).01.001) and contraceptive users (t258 = 2. women's attractiveness ratings were Analysis 2 used a sub-sample of Analysis 1 in which only the significantly higher for heavy stubble than other degrees of responses of regularly cycling women who reported the onset of beardedness (all t441 ≥ 3. all P b 0.C. 2008). .001).1. all P b 0.68.033) but not heavy 8.001.001. 100 women were in the high-fertility category (mean stubble (t441 = 1.62.335). light stubble. were found using a measure of likelihood of conception (see ceptives (mean age = 27. Fig. so that compared to men women gave higher health ratings for light and heavy stubble but not clean-shaven or full beards (Fig.6% were Asian.3%) were European. 2D). gray bars representing high fertility and black bars indicating ratings by participants who were using hormonal contraceptives. R. all P b 0.005) bleeding fell between days 6 and 14 were classed as the “high-fertility” and heavy stubble (t441 = 2. Full beards were rated significantly higher than other facial associated interactions with other factors did not alter ratings. Very similar results age = 27. P = 0. high-fertility participants gave significantly higher ratings for full beards than low-fertility 2. P = 0. 3D). Dixson. There was a marginally significant interaction elected not to define their ethnicity.97.80 ± healthier than light stubble (t441 = 2.13. P = 0. Participants received significantly higher parenting skill ratings than other levels whose menstrual bleeding fell between 0–5 and 15–28 days before the of facial hair (all t441 ≥ 5. Analyses 2: Results the paired comparisons were statistically significant (all t526 ≤ 1.12 ± 6. However. P = 0.82. all P b 0.78. healthiness (all t527 ≥ 2. & DeBruine.009. More than half of the Supplementary material.025). Brooks / Evolution and Human Behavior 34 (2013) 236–241 239 abilities. Middle Eastern or Australasian and 7. Little. Jones.63.93 ± 6. Fig.org).7% (t526 = 2. Fig.87.ehbonline. heavy stubble and full beards when judging physical attractiveness (A).5% were African. from a marginal effect on masculinity ratings. light and heavy stubble (all t441 ≥ 4.023).9% were Native www. available on the journal's website at participants (78. but not clean-shaven phase (Penton-Voak et al. Fertility and its (Table 1). 1. Full beards also trial were categorized as the “low-fertility” phase and those whose received higher health ratings than light (t441 = years).J. none of 2. However. Fig.29.5. with women giving significantly higher ratings than men American. P b 0. Clean-shaven faces were judged as of 182 women were in the low-fertility category (mean age =28. Data are split by participant's fertility with white bars depicting low fertility. 8. Fig. 1999. P = 0.. 3.27. 3B).

Further. 1986. R. among women living in countries with the lowest standards of Highly masculine men tend to have lower romantic attachment. fertility was unrelated to individuals unable to grow full beards. as thick stubble was always most attractive and levels of the target's testosterone. may balance the benefits of an intra. we found that also with dominance and aggression (Neave & Shields. nor did it account for the actual attractiveness ratings. Our results suggest that this does not generally hold for beards. However. Abrosio. women rated parental abilities of men with full beards highest. Owen. effects of this kind are known to influence experimental results. Our findings are similar to a grow full beards (Randall.J. particularly by men. 2008. Women's discrimination against full beards in attractiveness Preferences for masculine facial shape are known to be greater ratings may be due to costs of mating with a too-masculine man. that perceived masculinity rose linearly with facial hair. Women. Boothroyd. the combination of pro-social unambiguous signal of post-pubertal sexual maturity.. Men. & Awasthy. 1996). 1976). and styling fashions of men's beards varies over time and among tion against the more patchy light stubble and suggests a threshold of cultures. which could have influenced how they were rated. dimorphic androgen-dependent traits. Dixson. DeBruine. which influences men's potential to light stubble always least attractive. ratings were highest for either clean-shaven faces (Feinman & Gill. although facial hair is a clear signal of sexual maturity and example. while not attributes ascribed to smiling faces could explain why full beards in achieving the overly masculine appearance of heavy stubble and full concert with smiling facial expressions were judged to have greater beards. Wogalter & Hosie. kind. which could explain why beards received higher parental ability 1977. 2011). 2012). Crawford. but the In addition to being perceived as less invested in long-term interaction between sex and health ratings was marginally significant romantic relationships. our study used a 2010). even when reproductive status or fertility. However. 1989). 1996) or ratings. 1998. Dixson & Vasey. it is similar to Neave and Shields (2008). a posed open women preferred light stubble. highest-income inequality (Brooks et al. industri- threat and aggression signaled through full beards (Dixson & Vasey. preferences among women appear not to be linked to more attractive than men wearing other colors of shirt. & Marcus. We found that participants with higher judgments of facial hair vary across demographic and ecological potential fertility gave full-bearded faces higher masculinity ratings settings would be valuable. 2011). Reed & Blunk. 2012). masculine-looking men are perceived as likely as women gave higher health ratings for light and heavy stubble than to provide low paternal investment (Perrett et al. women's preferences are known to shift more towards to the stimuli might reflect the aggregate outcome of preferences masculine men when the likelihood of conception is higher (Gang. both men's and women's responses impose costs. 1994). threat and aggressiveness Facial hair correlates not only with maturity and masculinity. Attractiveness was in preferences for facial hair over the menstrual cycle. confidence. For example. interesting to know if a similar pattern pertains to facial hair. Subtle menopausal or pregnant women (Dixson. . sample of males to tease apart this interaction and future research While this may merely reflect arbitrary trends in tastes. less healthcare (DeBruine. Interestingly. the only property that males and females rated differently. compared to neutral facial expressions. Tam. for Thus. but (Neave & Shields. with heavy stubble or full beards judged more favorably and benefit from using more direct measures of fertility to fully test shifts clean-shaven faces faring as well or almost as well. Further. women rated clean-shaven and fully bearded faces less typically choose to wear beards and whether or not they are less attractive than heavy stubble. as is the case for numerous sexually shirts are not visible in the photograph (Roberts. 2008). Future studies would ratings. were more men of marriageable age in the mating market... 2008). and it would be term relationships (Rhodes et al. and perceptions of social dominance. social maturity. it may be that these negative ratings reflect discrimina. lowest on parenting skills and the It is possible that prevailing cultural perceptions of facial hair also least attractive. & Havlicek. 2008). heavy stubble as most (women) or equal most (men) attractive.240 B. the frequency of mustaches. They is known to interact with facial expression in perceptions of emotional concluded that light stubble is preferred over clean-shaven faces as an states (Dixson & Vasey. Both men and women rated light stubble as least attractive and 2006). we cannot account for the recent study demonstrating that women's preferences for facial hair effects of the experimental procedure of removing facial hair on men's do not change with fertility or among pre-menopausal. Hellström & Tekle. Jones. Likewise. men. Burt. across the sample and future studies testing whether or not estad & Thornhill. our use of smiling stimuli may have offset the full beards (Pellegrini. Welling. Manatunga. might be sensitive to the overall level of masculine However. were non-linear. 1973. ousness. 1973. as ambitious and intelligent (Otta. Hatfield & Sprecher.. Schneider. Our study does not include a sufficiently broad 1842 to 1972 each had distinct peaks in popularity (Robinson. Discussion studies of women's mate preferences. Kruger. 1973. Brooks / Evolution and Human Behavior 34 (2013) 236–241 3. who found beards. light stubble received the lowest 2006. by contrast. 1986). did not include in the fertile phase to masculinity. women rate photographs of men wearing red t-shirts as masculinity. sideburns. least healthy. Although these effects are subtle and further research contribute to how beardedness was judged in our study. little is known regarding the socio-sexuality of men who However. Indeed. Small. & Hoshino. However. sincerity and ambition (Kenny & Fletcher.C. Facial hair we did. 2005. & Perrett. Jones. while powerful. Despite the strong association between beards beardedness may reflect dual signaling functions of male facial hair. such procedures are prone to measurement error. & Raviele. Pellegrini. Thus. Barber (2001) that includes a greater sample with a wider range of natural variation found using Robinson's data that men were more bearded when there of beardedness would be valuable. beards augment perceived age. & Little. 2012). 1991. sympathetic. than did low-fertility participants. Our finding that women prefer heavy associated with aggression and dominance may provide direct stubble contrasts with previous studies in which attractiveness benefits such as protection to long-term mates (Snyder et al. judging other men. 2010) and interest in long-term relationships and report engaging in more short. Thus. Neave and Shields (2008) found. While a highly masculine partner might Although our sample was large. Frequencies is necessary. Muscarella & Cunningham. inaccuracies in recalling the onset of bleeding and While ratings of masculinity rose monotonically with beardedness. While this is common in masculinity and confidence (Wood. Alternatively. 2008). masculine traits with a too-masculine partner. suggesting a sensitivity of women Our repeated-measures design. 2012). wearing a false beard augments men's feelings of count-back system to estimate fertility. post. natural individual variation between participants in onset and the effects of facial hair on attractiveness. in our study light stubble was perceived as the parenting skills despite the higher ratings for masculinity. all of which are strongly valued by sexually competitive masculine partner against the costs of mating women in long-term partners (Buss. 2007). In almost all cases. bearded and clean-shaven faces. full density and distribution may be necessary for beards to function as an beards and clean-shaven appearances among men in London from attractive signal. health and parenting ratings duration of the period of high fertility (Fehring. with the lowest ratings given to fully smile is judged as significantly more attractive. negative effects associated with higher masculinity attributed to full 1990). The fact that women and men differ romantically committed to long-term relationships than men who opt significantly in how they rate the attractiveness of different levels of to be clean-shaven.

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