The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Sexual selection, signaling and facial hair: US and India ratings of variable male facial hair


1Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2Psychology, CHRIST (Deemed to be University)

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

The ability to grow facial hair might have served as an honest ancestral signal of male age, social dominance, strength and health. Male facial hair may also have had signaling value for attractiveness, though subject to potential conflicts between status-related benefits, sexual coercion and intimate care for a mate and offspring. Male facial hair can also be modified, giving rise to cultural variation in the potential signaling function of facial hair. To address the putative ancestral social signaling value of male facial hair, in concert with variable cultural meaning, we surveyed N=250 US men and women and N=281 Indian men and women, ages 18-25, about sociodemographics and attitudes toward male facial hair. Participants rated a randomized series of nine images of a composite male model with facial hair with respect to: preferred style, estimated age, attractive to potential partners, assertive, physically strong, friendly, and healthy. Types of facial hair were grouped into four categories: clean shaven, partial (e.g., Van Dyke and soul patch), stubble and beard. Supporting hypothesized differences, results show that more male facial hair was positively associated with age estimates and assertiveness and negatively with friendliness, though unrelated to physical strength. Supporting hypotheses, women preferred less facial hair and rated less facial hair as more attractive. Some sample differences arose such as Indian participants perceiving greater age estimate ranges than US respondents. These data indicate patterned variation in evaluations of male facial hair that can be situated within an evolutionary- and culturally-evolved signaling framework.

Slides/Poster (pdf)