Intra-sexual selection has shaped the evolution of sexually dimorphic traits in males of many primates, including humans. In men, sexual dimorphism in craniofacial shape (i.e. facial masculinity) and facial hair have both been shown to communicate aspects of social and physical dominance intra-sexually. However, less attention has been given to how variation in physical and social dominance among receivers impacts on perceptions of facial masculinity and beards as intra-sexual signals of formidability.
In the current study, male participants (N = 951) rated male faces varying in masculinity and beardedness when judging masculinity, dominance and aggressiveness. These participants also responded to scales measuring their psychological dominance, sexual jealousy, status seeking, and masculine morphology (facial masculinity, facial hair, and height).
Beardedness exerted strong effects over clean-shaven faces on ratings of masculinity, dominance, and aggressiveness. Trait ratings of masculinity, dominance, and aggressiveness rose linearly with increasing craniofacial masculinity. The significant facial masculinity × facial hair interaction suggests that beardedness caused strong effects on all trait ratings over clean-shaven faces at every level of facial masculinity. Participants with full beards also reported higher scores on dominance and assertiveness scales. Participants high in dominance and assertiveness also gave higher ratings for dominance, but not masculinity or aggressiveness, to bearded over clean-shaven faces. Participants low in intra-sexual jealousy rated clean-shaven and/or feminised faces as less dominant, less masculine, and less aggressive.
These findings demonstrate that facial hair enhances perceptions of masculinity, dominance, and aggressiveness above ratings of facial masculinity, potentially by augmenting masculine craniofacial features. Individual differences in intra-sexual dominance showed associations with judgments of facial hair but not facial masculinity. Our study demonstrates that when two sexually dimorphic androgen dependent facial traits are judged in concert, ornamental rather than structural masculine facial features underpin men’s intra-sexual judgments of formidability.
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This study was supported by a University of Queensland Postdoctoral Fellowship to BJWD.
Data are available at the Open Science Framework.
Conflict of Interest
The authors have no competing interests.
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Mefodeva, V., Sidari, M.J., Chau, H. et al. Multivariate Intra-Sexual Selection on Men’s Perceptions of Male Facial Morphology. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology 6, 143–169 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40750-020-00128-2
- Sexual selection
- Intra-sexual competition
- Facial hair
- Facial masculinity