A new study reveals that children do not associate beards with trustworthiness, unless they have bearded fathers.
Your hipster lumberjack beard may be lush and soft, but it's not impressing everybody. A new study reveals that children are more likely to be mistrustful of men with facial hair, especially strangers. The study, published in the Evolution and Human Behavior Journal, suggested that kids are more averse to beards until they hit puberty unless they have bearded fathers. “Until very recent history, beards were a very prominent element of men's faces, and so we must have expectations related to those, and it turns out that adults do,” said study co-author Nicole Nelson. “And so we were wondering whether or not all of those expectations emerge in adulthood or if they are there throughout our lives,” she told Men's Variety.
The study tested 470 kids ranging from age 2 to 17, and 164 adults aged 18 to 22 years, showing them pairs of bearded and clean-shaven faces. The kids were then asked for their thoughts on which photos made men look older, stronger, and “the best". Results showed that the majority of the children associated beards with being older and stronger, but most also said that clean-shaven men were "the best". “As early as 1 year 9 months, they dislike beards,” Nelson explained. “And kids, as they got older, up to about 13 years, continue to dislike beards even more.” But the team saw a sharp shift when surveying teenaged children. According to Nelson, the children “all of a sudden had a jump in beard preferences,” once they hit puberty. She reasoned, "It seems like probably other people's faces mean different things to children depending on where they are developmentally." She added that personal experience was important to the results: children with bearded fathers led to kids warming up to beards at an early age, due to the familiarity of the visual and its connotations.
In another stage of the study, children were presented with a "choose your own adventure" type game. Researchers found that children were more likely to choose bearded male characters when men when faced with challenges involving strength, like fighting a dragon or moving a large stone. But in tasks involving trustworthiness, the children veered towards clean-shaven characters. “The understanding that beards are linked to strength is there very early, but they don't seem to trust beards at all,” Nelson said.
She concluded that men should be aware of what their beards could signify, telling Men's Variety, “I think it's a good move if you want to kind of boost your manliness — if you want to look a little more dominant, you want to look a little bit older. Those things come along with children being slightly afraid of you. If you want to chat with children, you might not want a beard.”