Objectives: 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.
Methods: 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.
Results: 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.
Conclusions: 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.