Facial hair researchers (yes, that’s a thing) have enlightened the world with more insights into the exploding beard culture in a new study out this week. It turns out that hipster beards may fall out of fashion sooner rather than later.
When beards are ubiquitous, people perceive them to be less attractive, according to the study in Biology Letters by a team of Australian researchers at the University of New South Wales.
“The bigger the trend gets, the weaker the preference for beards and the tide will go out again,” researcher Robert Brooks told the Guardian Australia. “We may well be at peak beard.”
Researchers suspect it is due to an evolutionary phenomenon called “negative frequency dependence,” which gives rare traits an advantage.
Those of you who scrupulously avoid the bearded masses of Williamsburg or Park Slope are in luck. And it’s perhaps even more good news for the New York men who actually contemplated paying upward of $3,000 for facial hair transplants.
Here’s how the experiment worked:
Subjects were asked to rate 36 faces: 24 were either all clean shaven, all full-bearded, or evenly distributed with all four gradients of beard, and the last 12 faces were comprised of three beards from each of four levels of beardedness.
When they saw all bearded faces in the first group of 24, they were more likely to rate clean shaven faces as more attractive in the last group of 12.
When subjects saw the all clean shaven faces in the first group of 24 or when the different levels of beardedness were distributed evenly, they were more likely to have a preference for full beards in the last group of 12.
What this means is that, under experimental conditions at least, patterns of facial hair enjoy greater attractiveness when rare than when they are common. Whether this scales to more nuanced judgements in the more complex and varied real world remains to be seen.
So should you ditch the beard?
On the one hand, the research suggests that if you find yourself clean shaven in a sea of beards, you’re more likely to stand out as attractive.
On the other hand, last year we learned from this same group of intrepid researchers that women gave men with full beards high ratings when it came to masculinity, parenting ability and good health.
So if you really want to, keep the beard — for now.