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Facial Hair and Societal Perception

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Should you shave the stubble before your date?

Do you need to give yourself a trim before the big interview?

Scientific research can tell you what other people are thinking when they look at your beard, which should give you a good idea of whether a beard is the right choice for your life.

Here’s the most basic breakdown. When you have distinctive facial hair (anything visible, even stubble), these are the traits people tend to associate with you:

  • aggression and dominance
  • maturity

A clean-shaven man, on the other hand, is associated more with the following traits:

  • sociability
  • health/cleanliness

Aggression & Facial Hair

A beard is a sign of active testosterone in the body, and human brains recognize that as coming with the potential for more aggression.

As a result, men with beards are often seen as more angry, aggressive, or dominant, even if their personality has none of those traits.

In one study, photographs of bearded men and non-bearded men making the same aggressive facial expression (scowling, baring teeth, etc.) were compared. The bearded men were rated as significantly more aggressive and intimidating, even when all other factors were identical.

That’s not inherently a bad thing — but it is a thing to keep in mind if you choose to wear a beard. For example, it’s never a great idea to be the guy at the front of a protest rally, face-to-face with the cops, and also sporting a huge beard!

Maturity & Facial Hair

Since the ability to grow a beard is a sign of physical maturity in men, it is naturally associated with age and grown manhood — as is evidenced by a study that found that beards were associated with maturity, power, and higher social status by both men and women.

Men with beards are also, predictably, perceived as being more “masculine” or “manly” than men without. A large 2013 study asked both men and women to rate photographs that showed one man with varying stages of facial growth. The longer the hair in the photograph shown, the more masculine he was rated.

Sociability & Facial Hair

While beards are associated with dominance, power, and maturity, on the flip side of the coin, that kind of masculine image can make people feel a little intimidated; one study found that bearded men are perceived as 38% less generous, 36% less caring, and 51% less cheerful than their clean-shaven brethren.

Likely for the same reasons that beards are seen as a sign of aggression, going beardless is often interpreted as a sign of being well-socialized and able to integrate with others.

Breaking this down to any kind of alpha/beta male idea is oversimplifying — it has more to do with what makes a man look like he takes charge versus one who gets along well with others.

Studies have found clean-shaven men to be more highly-rated in terms of social skills than their bearded brethren, based purely on still images — there was no actual observed socializing to base judgments on.

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