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Beneath the beard: do facial morphometrics influence the strength of judgments of men's beardedness?

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Barnaby J. W. Dixson, Anthony J. Lee, James M. Sherlock, Sean N. Talamas

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Converging evidence suggests men's beards, like many androgen-dependent masculine secondary sexual traits, communicate masculinity and dominance intra-sexually while effects of men's beardedness on attractiveness ratings are more equivocal. Beards may enhance perceived masculinity and dominance via amplifying aspects of underlying craniofacial masculinity, particularly the size of the lower face and jaw. Here we tested these predictions across two studies. In Study 1, we tested how three facial metrics - objectively measured craniofacial masculinity, facial-width-to-height ratio (fWHR), and jaw size - calculated while clean-shaven impacted on ratings of attractiveness, masculinity and dominance of 37 men photographed when clean-shaven and with full beards. Results showed that beards exerted significant and positive effects on masculinity, dominance and to a lesser extent attractiveness. However, fWHR did not significantly interact with beardedness to influence the directions of any of the ratings, and while some linear and nonlinear interactions were significant between objective craniofacial masculinity and beardedness as well as between jaw size and beardedness, they tended to be subtle and dwarfed by the large main effect of beardedness on perceptual ratings. In Study 2, we measured ratings of attractiveness, masculinity and dominance for composite clean-shaven and bearded stimuli experimentally manipulated in facial shape to represent ±50% the shape of a beard, essentially manipulating the size of the lower face and jaw of the stimuli. We found a strong main effect whereby bearded stimuli enhanced dominance and masculinity ratings over clean-shaven stimuli. Increasing the size of the lower face and jaw augmented ratings of masculinity and dominance in clean-shaven stimuli but did not exert strong effects within bearded stimuli. Attractiveness ratings were highest for bearded faces with smaller jaws followed by bearded and clean-shaven faces with larger jaws and lowest for clean-shaven faces with small jaws. Taken together, our findings suggest that beards exert main effects on masculinity and dominance possibly by amplifying male typical facial shape. Attractiveness ratings of facial hair may reflect a compromise between overly dominant looking faces with larger jaws and the additive effects beardedness has on these ratings.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-174
Number of pages11
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number2
Early online date26 Sep 2016
StatePublished - Mar 2017

    Research areas

  • Sexual selection, Human evolution, Facial hair, Masculinity, Dominance, Attractiveness

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