Beards: Evolution Protecting Men From Female Indecisiveness, Inner Conflict

Researchers say that women find bearded men more attractive, but the reason might be surprising. Beards are able to mask how masculine or feminine a man’s facial features are, and women, it seems, are attracted to different facial features for different reasons. Women find stubbled men more attractive for short-term relations and full-bearded men more attractive for long-term relationships, but the ability of a beard to mask a man’s facial features might be preferred because it solves the problem of the so-called masculinity paradox.

In the past, studies have shown that for short-term relationships, women want men who have more masculine facial features like a wide jawline. The rugged look is preferred for hook-ups and dating situations that aren’t meant to last. These same studies showed that for a long-term relationship, though, women are more drawn to less rugged facial features.

In an experiment, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, co-author Barnaby Dixson, who was from the School of Psychology at The University of Queensland in Australia, and a team of researchers photographed 36 men at different stages of facial hair growth. They included clean shaven, five days of facial hair growth, 10 days of facial hair growth, and at least 28 days of facial hair growth. They also manipulated the photos of 16 of the men to create new images in which the men look slightly more masculine in some pictures and slightly more feminine in other pictures, according to the study.

“Increases in masculinity resulted in narrower eyes, thicker and straighter brows, a thicker nasal bridge with narrower nostrils, less pronounced cheekbones, a narrower mouth and a larger, squarer jaw and chin, with the opposite changes accompanying feminization.”

In general, men with both light and heavy stubble were considered most attractive. In general, full-bearded and clean-shaven men were less attractive. In an interesting twist, though, full-bearded men were seen as the most attractive for long-term relationships, while light and heavy stubble were preferred for shorter term dating situations.

“Why such divergent effects occur between preferences for two sexually dimorphic traits remains unresolved,” the authors noted.

Over eight-thousand women judged the photographs created for the study and rated the images on how attractive they were in general and also how attractive the were for both short and long-term relationships.

While beards are generally considered a more masculine feature, “some earlier studies had already suggested that men with facial hair are the preferred choice for long-term relationships over clean-shaven men,” according to Medical News Today. Those researchers also found that women prefer more feminine features in men that they want to marry or settle down with, but paradoxically also preferred bearded men to clean-shaven men for the long haul. The researchers suspect that beards might be preferred by women for lasting relationships because they mask the internal conflict women have about what makes a man attractive.

“Thus, beards may mask the unattractive features of having overly feminine or masculine face shapes,” the authors explained. “Our findings suggest that beardedness may be attractive when judging long-term relationships as a signal of intrasexual formidability and the potential to provide direct benefits to females. More generally, our results hint at a divergence of signalling function, which may result in a subtle trade-off in women’s preferences, for two highly sexually dimorphic androgen-dependent facial traits.”

Essentially, women are drawn to masculine features, because they send signals of strength and long-term health, which could be better for fertility purposes, but women don’t need to look at those features during long-term relationships. Especially since women associate the manly facial features with less warmth, less romance, and greater infidelity. The masculine features probably signal feelings that an overly manly man might not be the best family man for women in a species that has come to frown on infidelity and embrace warmth in long-term relationships. The beard covers all that up. Conversely, a beard can cover up more feminine features on men’s faces that women don’t like as much from a reproductive aspect, too.

In much more scientific terms, the authors state that a beard might be evolution’s way of protecting men from the natural indecisiveness of women caused by a conflict between natural and societal expectations of men.

[Featured Image by Nate Tribbs | Pixabay]