Is a man’s beard length an honest signal of their psychological and physiological characteristics? Not really. According to a new study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, there is no association between beard length and men’s dominance or testosterone levels.
“Male facial hair is an incredibly potent topic. Did you know that the history of male beards goes back to ancient times? As a woman myself, unfortunately, I cannot grow an enormous Santa-Claus-like beard – but there were a few women, especially in the 20th century, who did grow a long beard and were famous for it! So maybe that is why this topic attracted my attention in the first place,” explained study author Marta Kowal, a PhD student at University of Wrocław. “Why is it men, and not women, who possess facial hair? And is it true what some claim, that bearded men are dripping with testosterone? Is that fella with lumberjack shirts and longer beards really more dominant than the clean-shaven one? Curiosity is a great drive in science.”
Physical appearance can be an indicator of one’s underlying qualities, and thus, is a valuable source of information in the dating market. The male beard in particular is one of the most noticeable and sexually dimorphic traits, making it very easy to visually differentiate between the sexes. The presence of a beard may signal masculinity, dominance, aggression, strength, and even enhance perceptions of a man’s age, confidence, and social status. Beards also influence self-perception, with bearded men feeling more masculine than non-bearded men.
Kowal and colleagues recruited 97 young and physically active men, who were in good health, not taking any hormone supplements, and had not smoked or consumed alcohol within 24 hours of the study. Given male testosterone decreases throughout the day, the experiment was conducted between 7:00 AM – 11:00 AM. Participants reported their age, weight, height and beardedness. Beardedness was measured indirectly, via self-report by selecting a picture that mirrored participants’ self-perceived facial hair. It was also measured directly by using digital calipers. This study was among the first to use both direct and self-report measurements of beardedness. Next, participants provided saliva samples.
Participants then engaged in physical activity, cycling sprints on a stationary bike to induce a testosterone spike. They rested for 12-minutes, during which they completed a questionnaire assessing for levels of dominance, providing ratings to questions such as “I usually make decisions for myself and others” or “It is me who influences others and not the other way round.” Afterwards, participants provided saliva samples once again.
Prior studies have reported that testosterone is associated with the density and rate of beard growth, suggesting that beards may be a proxy for male masculinity and dominance. However, Kowal and colleagues found no such relationship.
“There is this popular view that bearded men are more dominant and are even ‘sparkling’ with testosterone than clean-shaven men. That if you ‘want to be with a real man, you need to find one with a beard.’ However, our study provides no evidence for such claims,” Kowal told PsyPost. “Even though testosterone has been found to affect the density and rate of beard growth, men displaying their beards may not be truly signalling their dominance nor testosterone potential. So, sorry ladies, that beardy-looking fella in a lumberjack shirt may not have more testosterone than the clean-shaven gentleman sitting right next to him!”
But with regard to study limitations, Kowal said, “We need to remember that hormonal studies are more difficult to conduct, and thus, the sample size is not ideal to draw any general conclusions. Furthermore, our sample consisted of rather young men, ages ranging from 19 to 25.”
“Future studies should focus on beardedness and other markers of biological quality, such as susceptibility to disease or developmental instability expressed by fluctuating asymmetry. It would also be interesting to test our hypotheses among older individuals, such as middle-aged men,” she added.
The study, “Are Beards Honest Signals of Male Dominance and Testosterone?”, was authored by Marta Kowal, Piotr Sorokowski, Agnieszka Żelaźniewicz, Judyta Nowak, Sylwester Orzechowski, Grzegorz Żurek, Alina Żurek and Magdalena Nawrat.