Lighter hair seen as sign of youth, health, attractiveness and parenting ability in white women

New research published in The Journal of Social Psychology provides evidence that hair color and hair length affected men’s perceptions of women’s attractivess and parenting characteristics.

“It has been estimated that the global hair care market will exceed $80 billion in 2018. The question that interested my colleague Verlin Hinsz and I is, to what end? In the mid-90s we began investigating how properties of (primarily) women’s hair, most notably length and color, might influence how women are perceived,” said study author David C. Matz of Augsburg University.

“We (correctly) envisioned that this line of inquiry would be of interest to students and have used it to expose a number of student researchers to the intermingling of social and evolutionary forces that shape perceptions.”

In the study, 110 male students from Texas A&M University viewed computer-generated portraits of white women with various hair colors (blond, brown, black) and lengths (short, medium, long). The participants were asked to respond to questions regarding the women’s age, health, physical attractiveness, relationship potential and parenting capability.

“The take-home message is that the features of one’s hair can influence how they are perceived. In general, lighter (and to a lesser extent longer) hair on women tends to be associated with perceptions of youth, health and attractiveness. Furthermore, these characteristics can serve as signals to less easily observable characteristics that are directly related to reproductive and relationship potential.”

Overall, lighter hair was linked to better perceptions of youth, health, attractiveness, relationship potential and parenting ability. Longer hair, on the other hand, was somewhat associated with youth and an enhanced relationship potential — but a diminished perception of parenting ability.

The researchers also observed some interesting interactions. For example, women with long black hair were rated as more attractive than women with medium-length black hair, while women with medium-length blond hair were viewed as more attractive and healthier than women with long blond hair.

“In interpreting the results of this research it is important to keep in mind that interpersonal perceptions are not guided by a single trait, but rather by a combination of traits,” Matz noted.

“That is, perceptions of others are likely to involve an integration of cues that collectively lead to global assessment. So, hair color and length are or just two of many cues that people use to evaluate others.”

The study, like all research, has some limitations.

“A limitation of our study concerns the homogeneous nature of our sample and stimuli,” Matz explained. “Participants were a mostly Caucasian sample of college-aged men. Moreover, all of the models used in the present study appeared to be Caucasian women in their twenties. As such, it is difficult to make generalizations to other cultural and ethnic groups.”

“Additional research should be conducted that expands beyond the limits of the utilized sample and stimuli. Future research may also wish to examine the impact of men’s hair color and hair length as well as perceptions of and preferences for same-sex mates.”

The study was titled: “Women’s hair as a cue to desired relationship and parenting characteristics“.