Beardy wierdy

Sometimes the best of both worlds doesn't really work

Beardedness is not a word I would have ever expected to find in a scientific journal. However, it has sprouted up everywhere in one particular article published in the journal Psychological Reports. Beardedness – the condition of having a beard – apparently serves as a signal fora great number of qualities.

From the first downy tufts that appear on awkward, pubescent boys to the magnificent monument of hair that graces Brian Blessed’s glorious face, the beard is one of the definitive markers of manhood. As puberty starts, testosterone levels in the blood spike causing hundred of hair follicles in the cheeks and neck to awaken. The beard, therefore, is a marker of sexual maturity and age. One might think that, as an evolved trait, beards would generally be considered assets. And yes, a lot of women to profess to preferring ‘designer stubble’ to a clean-shaven man. However, our modern society, in many ways, is out of sync with our evolved past. So, in many cases having a beard can hold you back in society. As the study points out, beards are a marker of age, but this does not neccesarily translate into an asset in any one particular culture.

In this study, the scientists showed pictures of men in various states of hairiness – bearded, goateed, moustachioed and clean-shaven – to managers responsible for hiring in medium sized firms. The faces were rated for a number of traits, and brought some interesting results. Beards, by and large, were associated with left leaning political ideologies (just think of Marx, Castro and Che Guevara). Other studies have independently shown that clean-shaven men are thought of as more conservative politically. Masculinity, dominance, non-conformity were all also associated with beards.

This all fits with the evolutionary idea that beards are a sexual signal. Very broadly speaking, men have evolved to compete with each other for the affections of women. By display fitness signals, such as beards, one can save the costly business of actually fighting. The same should be true for tall men and strong men. As a result of beards being seen as threatening, aggressive, revolutionary even, men with beards were less likely to be hired than their baby-faced rivals. Curiously, the managers believed that men with moustaches and beards could be acceptable as low-level employees, but to be a boss – you really need to invest in a razor.