New research shows that when beards or clean shaven faces are more rare in a population, they are more attractive.
Dr. Bethany Brookshire, a science writer and regular Pulse contributor, says the findings are part of a study in negative frequency dependent selection, or the idea that things become more attractive when they are rare. She points to previous studies that have been done on guppies.
“Female guppies will select males whose patterns are rare,” Brookshire says. “You can vary the patterns in the lab, so you make the dots rare and the females prefer the dots. You make the stripes rare and the females prefer the stripes.”
Scientists wanted to find out if the same patterns existed in human behavior. So they conducted an online study in which more than 1,400 women and 200 men looked at photos of average looking men with variations in facial hair.
“They were able to show that in two conditions — the clean shaven condition and the full beard condition — those two conditions became more attractive when they were rare in the population,” Brookshire says.
Brookshire emphasizes, though, that those two conditions only became more attractive; they did not become the most attractive.
The condition with the highest attractiveness rating? That went to the men with heavy stubble.
So, just to recap — when it comes to facial hair, it’s not about the hair, it’s about what’s rare.
“In this case, it might just be novelty,” Brookshire says. “Seeing something a little out of the ordinary makes it more attractive.”
Brookshire is a science writer and educator for Science News and Society for Science and the Public, and writes for Eureka lab. She blogs under the name “Scicurious” and has a knack for finding the strangest science experiments and studies under the sun.