Other than making you look like the world’s suavest lumberjack, what do your burgeoning bristles do for you? It’s easy to assume that facial hair has something to do with attracting a mate, but science believes there’s more complex evolutionary reasoning behind why men grow beards.
“When we see differences between males and females,” writes The Conversation, “the explanation often boils down to evolution through sexual selection – the process that favours traits that boost mating opportunities.”
There’s just one problem when it comes to beards: no one can seem to agree. Some studies have found that women like a bit of facial hair, or even a lot, while others have found a preference for the clean-shaven look.
The lack of consistent evidence makes it impossible to conclude that beards evolved because women dig them. Instead, researchers believe that a second type of sexual selection is at play. It’s not enough to be attractive to reproduce – you also have to compete with the same sex for mating opportunities. And that’s where your brush may come in handy.
Studies have repeatedly found that both sexes perceive men with beards as older, stronger, and more aggressive. We also know that dominant men are afforded more mating opportunities by intimidating rivals. Do the math: beard equals dominance, dominance equals better luck with the ladies.
“The tension between attracting a mate and competing with others doesn’t just apply to beards and voices,” continues The Conversation. “Men on average also think their body should be more muscular than women report that they want, while women on average believe they need to be thinner and wear more make-up than men report that they want.”
In other words, Mars and Venus are terrible judges of what the other planet wants, and that could be because our instincts are more focused on out-competing our peers.