If you have a beard, this is what your coworkers probably think about you

Men may want to rethink their attempt to look like Brad Pitt in that segment of Legends of the Fall where he is really depressed and broody because beards send some interesting messages to people.

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“A man with a beard was always a little suspect anyway.” ― John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

Though a few years ago, the trend forecasters said beards were on their way out they seemed to be very much wrong as there is a good chance that many of your male coworkers are sporting one and there is a high percentage it is a long, bushy one. However, men may want to rethink their attempt to look like Brad Pitt in that segment of Legends of the Fall where he is really depressed and broody because beards send some interesting messages to people.


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In this month’s issue of Psychological Sciencea group of Australian researchers had 227 participants look at a series of photos of people’s faces and they were asked to quickly decide whether the faces conveyed anger or happiness. There were four types of photos (but all used the same men): clean-shaven men displaying happiness, clean-shaven men displaying anger, bearded men displaying happiness, and bearded men displaying anger. A beard here was defined as eight weeks of untrimmed facial hair growth.

“The beard is arguably one of the most obvious signals of masculinity in humans. Almost 150 years ago, Darwin suggested that beards evolved to communicate formidability to other males, but no studies have investigated whether beards enhance recognition of threatening expressions, such as anger,” the authors wrote.

The findings

The participants were the quickest when it came to identifying angry bearded men indicating that beards can make a face seem angrier. They also tended to recognize clean-shaven faces as happier at a fast rate as well.

To make sure the participants weren’t just biased against bearded faces they swapped the angry beard man photos for sad beard man photos, but they found that they were slower to recognize sad expressions on bearded faces than on clean-shaven faces so they could rule out a general bias.

Then they ran another experiment in which they had 450 participants look and rate the four types of faces used in the first experiment on scales of aggressiveness, masculinity, and prosociality. This time the bearded faces were rated highly for aggressiveness and masculinity but they were also rated highly for being prosocial (defined as a social behavior that “benefit[s] other people or society as a whole”, “such as helping, sharing, donating, co-operating, and volunteering”) more so than clean-shaven faces.

Basically, it means that beards may convey a few messages depending on the facial expression They can come off as aggressive and masculine and angry but they can also be seen as helpful and kind when a smile is applied.

Beards in the romance department

Another study from 2017, that asked the opinions of 8,520 women when it came to facial hair on men and potential romantic partner interest, found that men with more facial hair were favored when it came to long-term partnership (AKA marriage material.) Apparently, men who shave less show that they can prioritize important things like raising children and fixing things around the house.

Barnaby Dixson, a human behavioral ecologist at the University of Queensland and a co-author of the 2017 beard length study, told The New York Times that both men and women tend to think men with beards as more masculine, generous, sincere, industrious and self-confident. But along with that beard conveying being a good provider, they can still also be seen as aggressive, he noted.

Beards are full of germs?

If you are deciding whether or not to grow a beard you should also consider this recent study that found that men’s beards carry more germs than dogs. The study by Switzerland’s Hirslanded Clinic looked at the beards of 18 men and the necks of 30 dogs.

The report revealed that almost 50% of the beards had germs that are considered dangerous to humans. Plus, all of the men in the sample had a high microbial account in their facial hair but only 23 of the dogs had these. That is a small study but still. Not even the biggest smile makes up for a beard full of germs.

Perhaps the kids were right all along. Boys really do have cooties.


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Meredith Lepore|is the Deputy Editor of Ladders and can be reached at mlepore@theladders.com.