To test whether intra-sexual selection has influenced perceptions of male facial hair. We predicted that beards would increase the speed and accuracy of perceptions of angry but not happy facial expressions. We also predicted that bearded angry faces would receive the highest explicit ratings of masculinity and aggressiveness, whereas higher prosociality ratings would be ascribed to clean-shaven happy faces.
A total of 106 participants, ranging from 17 to 59 years of age (M = 27.27, SD = 10.03); 59 were female and 47 were male (44.3%) completed an emotion categorization tasks and an explicit ratings task. Participants viewed faces of the same men when bearded, clean-shaven, and 10 days of natural growth (i.e. stubble) when posing angry and happy facial expressions.
Angry facial expressions were categorised most rapidly and with the greatest accuracy on bearded faces, followed by faces with stubble then clean-shaven faces. Conversely, happy facial expressions were categorised most rapidly and with the greatest accuracy on clean-shaven faces, followed by stubbled faces then bearded faces. Irrespective of facial expression, full bearded faces received the highest ratings of masculinity followed by faces with stubble then clean-shaven faces. Aggressiveness ratings were highest for angry faces with full beards, followed by angry faces with stubble, with clean-shaven angry faces receiving the lowest ratings. In contrast to our prediction, bearded smiling faces were rated as significantly more prosocial than stubbled and clean-shaven smiling faces.
These findings contribute further evidence that men’s beardedness represents an intra-sexually selected badge of status that enhances nonverbal threat potentially by augmenting underlying masculine facial structures.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Data are available at the Open Science Framework.
Addison, W. E. (1989). Beardedness as a factor in perceived masculinity. Perception and Motor Skills, 68, 921–922.
Adhikari, K., Fontanil, T., Cal, S., Mendoza-Revilla, J., Fuentes-Guajardo, M., Chacón-Duque, J. C.,... & Ruiz-Linares, A. (2016). A genome-wide association scan in admixed Latin Americans identifies loci influencing facial and scalp hair features. Nature communications, 7, 1-12.
Andersson, M. (1994). Sexual selection. Princeton University Press.
Barber, N. (2001). Mustache fashion covaries with a good marriage market for women. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 25, 261–272.
Becker, D. V., Kenrick, D. T., Neuberg, S. L., Blackwell, K. C., & Smith, D. M. (2007). The confounded nature of angry men and happy women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 179.
Clarkson, T. R., Sidari, M. J., Sains, R., Alexander, M., Harrison, M., Mefodeva, V., Pearson, S., Lee, A. J., & Dixson, B. J. W. (2020). A multivariate analysis of women’s mating strategies and sexual selection on men’s facial morphology. Royal Society Open Science, 7, 191209.
Craig, B. M., & Lee, A. J. (2020). Stereotypes and structure in the interaction between facial emotional expression and sex characteristics. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 6, 212–235.
Craig, B. M., Nelson, N. L., & Dixson, B. J. W. (2019). Sexual selection, agonistic signalling, and the effect of beards on men’s anger displays. Psychological Science, 30, 728–738.
De Clercq, A., Crombez, G., Buysse, A., & Roeyers, H. (2003). A simple and sensitive method to measure timing accuracy. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 35, 109–115.
Dixson, A. F., Dixson, B. J., & Anderson, M. J. (2005). Sexual selection and the evolution of visually conspicuous sexually dimorphic traits in male monkeys, apes, and human beings. Annual Review of Sex Research, 16, 1–19.
Dixson, B. J. (2018). Is male facial width-to-height ratio the target of sexual selection? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(4), 827–828.
Dixson, B. J. (2019). Sexual selection and extended phenotypes in humans. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 5, 103–107.
Dixson, B. J. W. (2021). Sexual selection and the evolution of human appearance enhancements. Archives of Sexual Behavior. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-01946-5
Dixson, B. J., Blake, K. R., Denson, T. F., Gooda-Vossos, A., O’Dean, S. M., Sulikowski, D., ...& Brooks, R. C. (2018a). The role of mating context and fecundability in women’s preferences for men’s facial masculinity and beardedness. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 93, 90-102.
Dixson, B. J., & Brooks, R. C. (2013). The role of facial hair in women’s perceptions of men’s attractiveness, health, masculinity and parenting abilities. Evolution and Human Behavior, 34, 236–241.
Dixson, B. J. W., Kennedy-Costantini, S., Lee, A. J., & Nelson, N. L. (2019a). Mothers are sensitive to men’s beards as a potential cue of paternal investment. Hormones and Behavior, 113, 55–66.
Dixson, B. J., & Lee, A. J. (2020). Cross-cultural variation in men’s beardedness. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 6, 490–500.
Dixson, B. J., Lee, A. J., Blake, K. R., Jasienska, G., & Marcinkowska, U. M. (2018b). Women’s preferences for men’s beards show no relation to their ovarian cycle phase and sex hormone levels. Hormones and Behavior, 97, 137–144.
Dixson, B. J. W., Lee, A. J., Sherlock, J. M., & Talamas, S. N. (2017). Beneath the beard: Do facial morphometrics influence the strength of judgments of men’s beardedness? Evolution and Human Behavior, 38, 164–174.
Dixson, B. J., & Rantala, M. J. (2016). The role of facial and body hair distribution in women’s judgments of men’s sexual attractiveness. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 877–889.
Dixson, B. J., Rantala, M. J., & Brooks, R. C. (2019b). Cross-cultural variation in women’s preferences for men’s body hair. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 5, 131–147.
Dixson, B. J. W., Rantala, M. J., Melo, E. F., & Brooks, R. C. (2017b). Beards and the big city: Displays of masculinity may be amplified under crowded conditions. Evolution and Human Behavior, 38, 259–264.
Dixson, B. J., Sherlock, J. M., Cornwell, W. K., & Kasumovic, M. M. (2018c). Contest competition and men’s facial hair: Beards may not provide advantages in combat. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39, 147–153.
Dixson, B. J. W., Sulikowski, D., Gouda-Vossos, A., Rantala, M. J., & Brooks, R. C. (2016). The masculinity paradox: Facial masculinity and beardedness interact to determine women sratings of men’s facial attractiveness. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 29, 2311–2320.
Dixson, B. J., Tam, J., & Awasthy, M. (2013). Do women’s preferences for men’s facial hair change with reproductive status? Behavioral Ecology, 24, 708–716.
Dixson, B. J., & Vasey, P. L. (2012). Beards augment perceptions of men’s aggressiveness, dominance and age, but not attractiveness. Behavioral Ecology, 23, 481–490.
Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1978). Facial action coding system: A technique for the measurement of facial movement. Consulting Psychologists Press.
Emlen, D. J. (2008). The evolution of animal weapons. Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics, 39, 387–413.
Faul, F., Erdfelder, E., Buchner, A., & Lang, A. G. (2009). Statistical power analyses using G* Power 3.1: Tests for correlation and regression analyses. Behavior Research Methods, 41, 1149–1160.
Fetscherin, M., Tantleff-Dunn, S., & Klumb, A. (2020). Effects of facial features and styling elements on perceptions of competence, warmth, and hireability of male professionals. The Journal of Social Psychology, 160, 332–345.
Geniole, S. N., Denson, T. F., Dixson, B. J., Carré, J. M., & McCormick, C. M. (2015). Evidence from meta-analyses of the facial width-to-height ratio as an evolved cue of threat. PloS one, 10(7), e0132726.
Geniole, S. N., & McCormick, C. M. (2015). Facing our ancestors: Judgments of aggression are consistent and related to the facial width-to-height ratio in men irrespective of beards. Evolution and Human Behavior, 36, 279–285.
Goodhart, C. B. (1960). The evolutionary significance of human hair patterns and skin colouring. British Association for the Advancement of Science, 17, 53–58.
Gray, P. B., Craig, L. K., Paiz-Say, J., et al. (2020). Sexual selection, signaling and facial hair: US and India ratings of variable male facial hair. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 6, 170–184.
Griggs, R. C., Kingston, W., Jozefowicz, R. F., Herr, B. E., Forbes, G., & Halliday, D. (1989). Effect of testosterone on muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis. Journal of Applied Physiology, 66, 498–503.
Guthrie, R. D. (1970). Evolution of human threat display organs. In T. Dobhansky, M. K. Hecht, & W. C. Steers (Eds.), Evolutionary biology (pp. 257–302). Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Grueter, C. C., Isler, K., & Dixson, B. J. (2015). Are badges of status adaptive in large complex primate groups? Evolution and Human Behavior, 36, 398–406.
Imperato-McGinley, J., & Zhu, Y. S. (2002). Androgens and male physiology the syndrome of 5α reductase-2 deficiency. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, 198, 51–59.
Janif, Z. J., Brooks, R. C., & Dixson, B. J. (2014). Negative frequency-dependent preferences and variation in male facial hair. Biology Letters, 10(4), 20130958.
Jach, Ł., & Moroń, M. (2020). I can wear a beard, but you should shave… Preferences for men’s facial hair from the perspective of both sexes. Evolutionary Psychology, 18(4), 1474704920961728.
Jones, B. C., DeBruine, L. M., Flake, J. K., Liuzza, M. T., Antfolk, J., Arinze, N. C., ... & Sirota, M. (2021). To which world regions does the valence–dominance model of social perception apply? Nature human behaviour, 5, 159-169.
Kim, S. B., Lee, S., & Kim, D. Y. (2018). The effect of service providers’ facial hair on restaurant customers’ perceptions. Service Business, 12, 277–303.
Kokko, H., Jennions, M. D., & Brooks, R. (2006). Unifying and testing models of sexual selection. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, 37, 43–66.
McCullough, E. L., Miller, C. W., & Emlen, D. J. (2016). Why sexually selected weapons are not ornaments. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 31, 742–751.
Mefodeva, V., Sidari, M. J., Chau, H., Fitzsimmons, B., Strain, G., Clarkson, T. R., Pearson, S., Lee, A. J., & Dixson, B. J. W. (2020). Multivariate intra-sexual selection on men’s perceptions of male facial morphology. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 6, 143–169.
Mittal, S., & Silvera, D. H. (2020). It grows on you: Perceptions of sales/service personnel with facial hair. Journal of Business Research, 132, 604–613.
Moshontz, H., Campbell, L., Ebersole, C. R., IJzerman, H., Urry, H. L., Forscher, P. S., ... & Chartier, C. R. (2018). The Psychological Science Accelerator: Advancing psychology through a distributed collaborative network. Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science, 1, 501-515.
Muscarella, F., & Cunningham, M. R. (1996). The evolutionary significance and social perception of male pattern baldness and facial hair. Ethology and Sociobiology, 17, 99–117.
McIntosh, T., Lee, A. J., Sidari, M., Stower, R., Sherlock, J. M., & Dixson, B. J. W. (2017). Microbes and masculinity: Does exposure to pathogenic cues alter women’s preferences for male facial masculinity and beardedness? PloS One, 12(6), e0178206.
Neave, N., & Shields, K. (2008). The effects of facial hair manipulation on female perceptions of attractiveness, masculinity, and dominance in male faces. Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 373–377.
Nelson, N. L., Kennedy-Costantini, S., Lee, A. J., & Dixson, B. J. W. (2019). Children’s judgements of facial hair are influenced by biological development and experience. Evolution and Human Behavior, 113, 55–66.
Oosterhof, N. N., & Todorov, A. (2008). The functional basis of face evaluation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105, 11087–11092.
Pazhoohi, F., & Kingstone, A. (2020). Parasite prevalence and income inequality positively predict beardedness across 25 countries. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 6, 185–193.
Petersen, R. M., & Higham, J. P. (2020). The Role of Sexual Selection in the Evolution of Facial Displays in Male Non-human primates and men. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 6, 249–276.
Puts, D. (2016). Human sexual selection. Current Opinion in Psychology, 7, 28–32.
Randall, V. A. (2008). Androgens and hair growth. Dermatological. Therapy, 21, 314–328.
Rico-Guevara, A., & Hurme, K. J. (2019). Intrasexually selected weapons. Biological Reviews, 94, 60–101.
Robinson, D. E. (1976). Fashions in shaving and trimming of the beard: The men of the Illustrated London News, 1842–1972. American Journal of Sociology, 81, 1133–1141.
Saxton, T. K., Mackey, L. L., McCarty, K., & Neave, N. (2016). A lover or a fighter? Opposing sexual selection pressures on men’s vocal pitch and facial hair. Behavioral Ecology, 27, 512–519.
Sell, A., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2014). The human anger face evolved to enhance cues of strength. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35, 425–429.
Sherlock, J. M., Tegg, B., Sulikowski, D., & Dixson, B. J. (2017). Facial masculinity and beardedness determine men’s explicit, but not their implicit, responses to male dominance. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 3, 14–29.
Štěrbová, Z., Tureček, P., & Kleisner, K. (2019). She always steps in the same river: Similarity among long-term partners in their demographic, physical, and personality characteristics. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 52.
Stower, R., Lee, A. J., McIntosh, T., Sidari, M., Sherlock, J. M., & Dixson, B. J. W. (2020). Mating strategies and the masculinity paradox: How relationship context, relationship status and sociosexuality shape women’s preferences for facial masculinity and beardedness. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49, 809–820.
Torrance, J. S., Wincenciak, J., Hahn, A. C., DeBruine, L. M., & Jones, B. C. (2014). The relative contributions of facial shape and surface information to perceptions of attractiveness and dominance. Plos one, 9(10), e104415.
Whitehouse, A. J., Gilani, S. Z., Shafait, F., Mian, A., Tan, D. W., Maybery, M. T., ... & Eastwood, P. (2015). Prenatal testosterone exposure is related to sexually dimorphic facial morphology in adulthood. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1816), 20151351.
Wiens, J. J., & Tuschhoff, E. (2020). Songs versus colours versus horns: What explains the diversity of sexually selected traits? Biological Reviews, 95, 847–864.
We thank all the participants who contributed data to our study.
Ethics clearance from the University of Queensland’s Behavioural and Social Sciences Ethical Review Committee and the School of Psychology’s Ethics Review Panel (Ethics Approval Number: 18-PSYCH-4G-13-JMC) and The University of New England Human Research Ethics Committee HE20-103. These studies were performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Dixson, B.J.W., Barkhuizen, C.L. & Craig, B.M. Beards Increase the Speed, Accuracy, and Explicit Judgments of Facial Threat. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology 7, 347–362 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40750-021-00169-1
- Sexual selection
- Human beings
- Facial hair
- Face perception