Study Finds That Men Are Most Attractive With Heavy Stubble Beards
Christopher Philip

Image Courtesy of The Minneapolis Beard & Moustache Club.  To Join their group, find the link in the resources section at the bottom of the page.

Image Courtesy of Michael “MJ” Johnson of The Minneapolis Beard & Moustache Club. To Join their group, find the link in the resources section at the bottom of the page.

Barnaby Dixson and Robert Brooks Evolution University of New South Wales, Australia have determined that women find men most attractive when they had about 10 days worth of beard growth. Interestingly, the men with just 5 days of beard growth were the least attractive.

In the study, both men and women examined photographs of 10 different men with various stages of beard growth. In total 351 women and 177 (heterosexual) men were enlisted. Each “beard model” was photographed in four condition: fully shave, with 5 days beard growth (light stubble), with 10 days of beard growth (heavy stubble) and with a fully grown beard. The photographs were then assessed by the subjects in terms of their perceived attractiveness, healthiness, masculinity, and parenting abilities using a six-point scale.

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The researchers found that women judged faces with heavy stubble as most
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 both rated full beards highest for parenting ability and healthiness.

Masculinity increases linearly with beardedness.  Credit: Evolution and Human Behavior

Masculinity increases linearly with beardedness. Credit: Evolution and Human Behavior

Masculinity ratings also increased linearly. Thus, as facial hair increased, so did ratings of masculinity. The researchers also found that women that were in their peak fertility of their menstrual cycle (about mid-month) had stronger ratings for masculinity although they did not rate the models any higher on attractiveness. This was the case whether the female subjects were using hormonal oral contraceptives or not.

The researchers suggest that beardedness may be a signal to women on the competency of men as fathers, and protectors. In other words, beards may signal which men are better suited to protect and invest in offspring.

The researchers postulate that the light stubble condition might not merit the full status achieved from a full stubble condition due to its less full and patchier appearance.

However, the fact that men and women differ on how they rate attractiveness is up to speculation. Perhaps, as suggested in the paper, there is a “dual signaling function” to male facial hair. Facial hair correlates to maturity and masculinity, but also with dominance and aggression. When men judge other men, they are perhaps more sensitive to threat and aggression of other men, while women might be sensitive overall to the level of masculinity. Women might feel the need to balance the attributes of maleness and masculinity with the potential side-effects of higher aggression.

Images show the four stimulus conditions: clean-shaven, with light stubble, heavy stubble and a full beard. Credit: Evolution and Human Behavior

Images show the four stimulus conditions: clean-shaven, with light stubble, heavy stubble and a full beard. Credit: Evolution and Human Behavior

Other research supports the idea that highly masculine men tend to have lower romantic attachment and less interest in long-term relationships. Although, no research has made any association between men who wear beards and their relative relationship investments. However, beards have been rated to augment perceived age, social maturity, industriousness, sincerity and ambition – all qualities assumed to be attractive to potential mates.

Of note, however, are the evolving cultural preferences of facial hair. Moustaches, sideburns, full beards and clean-shaven have all made appearances throughout history. However, beardedness is a prehistoric condition – one which would have been more or less involuntary and would be a strong indication of maleness surrounding puberty. Thus, beard quality, thickness and fullness would signal to potential mates that he was sexually mature and prepared for fatherhood.

This makes beardedness a sexual characteristic that is potent to women.

The takeaway message from the research is quite clear – full stubble is best.

For a laugh “Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of Bearded Men.” 1967 study.

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Resources

Barnaby J. Dixson and Robert C. Brooks. The Role Of Facial Hair In Women’s Perceptions Of Men’s Attractiveness, Health, Masculinity And Parenting Abilities. Evolution and Human Behavior, 2013; 34 (3): 236–241.

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