If beards could talk what would they say?
Researchers at The University of New England think they know after unlocking the secret language of facial hair.
It might even explain why the beards exist in the first place.
Researcher Belinda Craig says the team’s study showed beards change the way people recognise emotion on a face.
“We asked people to recognise emotional expressions and found that they are faster to recognise anger when there is a beard than when the face is clean-shaven,” Dr Craig said.
“Interestingly, we found that people were slower to recognise sadness on a bearded face than a clean-shaven face.
“We think it’s because the beard emphasizes the jaw which makes it easier to recognise anger but it is concealing some of the signals of sadness.”
The team found it was also harder to recognise signs of happiness on a bearded face.
Dr Craig says the results may shed light on the biological origin of beards as a means of appearing more fierce.
“If you look angry, you are signalling to others that you are potentially going to fight them and that you are a threat to them,” she says.
“We found that having a beard can enhance this communication by making a person look more masculine and aggressive.
“Our findings are in line with the idea that a beard could help a man to survive by helping him to avoid possibly deadly fights or it could help him to look high status and gain access to more partners.”
Paradoxically, there’s good news for all those beard-wearing men who would rather appear affable than aggressive.
When evaluating smiling faces, people also rated bearded ones as more “pro-social”. That is, friendlier and more helpful than their clean-shaven counterparts.
Research to understand human communication is only possible if we support our universities. To keep Australia clever, please sign the petition below.