Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Men with beards
Honestly, I just kind of quit shaving. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Maybe you're like me. (Sorry, it's not always easy. Well, sometimes it is. But I digress.)
What I mean is, maybe you're a man who was clean-shaven for basically his whole life.
And maybe you decided during the early stages of the pandemic, when you were isolated from most of the world, anyway: Heck, let's see what happens if I just stop shaving.
Now that the world is going back to the office (at least part-time), you're trying to figure out what science says about the impressions your new look inspires.
It's what happened to me, starting around March 2020. By April, I'd grown beyond the itchy stage; by Memorial Day, it was full-on Grizzly Adams. By late summer, I went to my barber and said, Hey, how 'bout you help me figure this out?
I like how it's turned out. I have to stay on top of it, because I've realized that probably the best look for me—the one I feel most comfortable and confident with—is when I try to make time stand still, by maintaining a perpetual state of roughly 10 to 14-day growth.
Not "guy who got in late last night and didn't have a chance to shave;" not "trying to imitate Tom Hanks in Castaway," but instead "short beard, two weeks, might decide to shave, not sure."
Now, I don't know if it's pure coincidence, or grooming serendipity, but it turns out that 10 days' growth is exactly where science says most men should try to be to send the most positive messages, statistically speaking, to the people around them.
Let's start with a study out of the University of Queensland in Australia, in which researchers attempted to determine the degree to which varying lengths of facial hair might change perceptions of men, in the eyes of heterosexual women.
Researchers collected the women's reactions to photographs of men whose beards fell into four categories: clean-shaven, light stubble (five days' growth), heavy stubble (10 days' growth), and thick beards (about a month's worth of growth).
The study really broke the women's responses into categories based on what type of romantic relationships they were looking for.
But in short, men with light stubble and heavy stubble fared best in the "just looking for a little fun" category, while men with heavy stubble and full beards were most attractive to women looking for a long-term relationship.
Men with clean-shaven faces were at the back of the line in all cases.
Another study out of Brazil found fairly similar results regarding gay men, according to a New York Times report; if anything, they were more attracted to men with more facial hair.
Now, I'm happily married, so as long as my wife is cool with the beard, I suppose I can consider that box checked. But I was also very interested to learn how people in social and business settings perceive men with beards, especially if there was any scientific research to back it up.
Here's perhaps the most interesting study. Yet another group of Australian researchers (must be a thing) asked 227 people to look at photographs of men both with and without beards, and with facial expressions connoting happiness or anger.
In general, the study participants identified the angry, bearded men most quickly, leading to the conclusion that men with beards give off an aura of seriousness and aggression, regardless of other factors or expressions.
But, the surprise was that in a follow-up study of 450 people, in which they were asked to rate the same photos as either aggressive, masculine, and/or prosocial, they rated the happy, bearded men as higher on all three categories--including prosocial.
One theory: The mere presence of a beard suggests aggression and masculinity, so the change in expression as the result of a smile or another signal of happiness results in a magnified reaction toward prosociality on the part of the other person.
Look, there are a lot of reasons why men grow beards. A pandemic is one, sure. But maybe your culture or religion encourages or even requires them. Maybe you just want to see how it would look.
Maybe you just got traded away from the New York Yankees, and you want to let your freak fly a little.
Obviously, I'm not going to tell you whether a beard is a good idea for you or not. But, if you're able to grow one, maybe knowing what science says it does to other people's perceptions of you will affect your choice.
Oh, and keep it clean. I don't think we need scientific research to know that a beard with food stuck in it doesn't rate high on anyone's list.
7 other things worth knowing today
Saudi energy company Aramco said Sunday its profits jumped 90% in the second quarter compared to the same time last year, helping its half-year earnings reach nearly $88 billion. The increase is a boon for the kingdom and the crown prince’s spending power as people around the world pay higher gas prices at the pump while energy companies rake in top earnings. (AP)
The IRS just got $80 billion to beef up. A big goal? Going after rich tax dodgers. (NPR)
John W. Hinckley Jr., who was found not guilty by reason of insanity after attempting to assassinate President Reagan and wounding him and three other people, was freed from court oversight after 41 years in June. He's now a musician—struggling to find a venue willing to let him play, but gathering a surprising following among young people who were born years after the shooting. (WashPost, gift article)
Promising new treatment for depression? Giant magnets. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) “has been kind of a lifesaver for me,” says one patient. “When I was severely depressed, my main symptom was brain fog…. I just never felt present. I was daydreaming a lot. TMS brought me back to a place where I was like a fully functioning person again.” (Daily Beast)
Lack of rain and therefore water for farming is making it harder to grow tomatoes, threatening to further push up prices on everything tomato-related, from salsa to spaghetti sauce. (Yahoo Finance)
Younger and middle-aged heterosexual men are the loneliest they’ve been in generations, and it’s probably going to get worse, says a psychologist. His main explanation: Dating apps give women much more control over who they date (or aspire to date), but most men haven't "leveled up" their communication and relationship skills. (Psychology Today)
One of two things happened with this next story: Either a woman named Jenny whose partner named Steve cheated on her took out a full page ad in a local newspaper and went viral, or else the local newspaper dreamed up a PR scheme that I've now fallen for as well. Thoughts? (Mackay & Whitsunday Life, Twitter)