Science can plumb the mysteries of the universe, cure disease, and reveal the origins of man – but can it provide insight into the age-old mystery that troubles every man, namely: What Do Women Want?
Yes it can, dear Reg reader, yes it can.
According to research conducted at the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre of Sydney's University of New South Wales, women find men with 10-day's worth of unshaven stubble to be at their peak of attractiveness.
The results of the study, published in the prestigious Evolution & Human Behavior, can be summarized thusly: "Our findings confirm that beardedness affects judgments of male socio-sexual attributes and suggest that an intermediate level of beardedness is most attractive."
In pursuit of this critical conclusion, researchers Barnaby Dixson and Robert Brooks enlisted 10 men as subjects, and photographed them clean-shaven, with five-day and 10-day stubble, and finally with a full, well-trimmed beard. Those photos were then showed to 351 women and 177 men – heterosexuals all – who were asked to rate the subjects on four perceived criteria: attractiveness, health, masculinity, and parenting abilities.
The results? By a strong margin, women found the images of men with a 10-day, heavy stubble the most attractive, with the other three beard levels being, in Dixson and Brooks' words, "similarly less attractive." Men, however, found both the heavily stubbled and fully bearded photos of essentially equal attractiveness. Least attractive to both women and men: light, 5-day stubble.
Heavy stubble didn't sweep the field, however. In their perceptions of health, masculinity, and parenting skills, the bearded photos won the day among both men and women – although the heavy-stubble faces were a close second in each of those categories, and essentially tied with clean-shaven in the health category.
Clean-shaven, however, fared poorly among women in the masculinity category, who placed those photos at the bottom of that scale. In fact, the more facial hair that each photo displayed, the higher it scored on the masculinity scale – and that held true for both men and women.
Being cautious social scientists, Dixson and Brooks also queried the women as to where they were in their menstrual cycle and if they were using hormonal contraceptives, in an effort to determine whether those hormonal changes might skew results.
Interestingly, when women were asked for their opinions during the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle, there was no change in their perceptions of attractiveness, but they did tend to rate men as being more masculine.
I will let you, dear reader, take your own conclusions from the academic paper, entitled "The role of facial hair in women's perceptions of men's attractiveness, health, masculinity and parenting abilities". Your Reg reporter – a fair-skinned, formerly flaxen-haired, Northern European type who has never been able to grow more than a wisp of a beard – has been left with a heavy heart by Dixson and Brooks' findings. ®