Growing a beard during Covid-19 lockdown? Maybe you should think again. Bearded men were already on the back foot after a recent study proved that men’s beards contain “significantly higher” bacteria levels than dog fur. But a new revelation won’t help hairy-faced types to recover their Viking swagger. Dr Nicole Nelson, a psychology lecturer at the University of Queensland has found that children are instinctively suspicious of bearded men. TFH spoke to her to find out more.
TFH: You’re an expert in how children understand and process emotional expressions and other non-verbal cues Is it true that kids don’t trust men with beards?
Nicole Nelson: We did find that kids don’t trust men with beards and they also think beards make you look pretty unattractive, so kids associate some negative things with being bearded. But kids also think beards make people look stronger and older, which most people would consider a good thing. So, kids don’t hate beards, they just have mixed feelings about them!
TFH: How did you find this out?
NN: When we asked kids about who they trust, we read them a storybook about being on a magical island where they encountered a bunch of different challenges. For some challenges they needed a trustworthy partner, like someone to help hide their treasure. For each challenge kids got to choose a partner to help them and they chose between two “twins” who were actually pictures of the same man with and without a beard. When they were faced with a trust challenge, kids overwhelmingly chose the man without a beard and avoided the man with a beard.
TFH: Did the age of the kids affect their reaction to beards?
NN: Well, our kids – who were between four and 12 years-old – didn’t pick bearded men to help them when they needed a trustworthy partner. But we also asked adults to read through our storybook and adults preferred the bearded partner when they needed someone trustworthy. So, just because children don’t trust bearded people doesn’t mean everyone feels that way.
TFH: Why do you think children are suspicious of facial fuzz?
NN: It may have something to do with the mixed feelings children have about bearded men. Even two-year-olds think beards make you look stronger, older, and more masculine, which are traits we usually think about as showing dominance. And it makes some sense that kids are wary of people who are super dominant, right? So, when it comes to who to trust, kids may just prefer people who are a bit less dominant and a bit less powerful.
TFH: Ok, I’ve got a one and a two-year-old. But I’m also very lazy. Can I get away without shaving?
NN: In some of our earlier work, kids who had bearded dads viewed beards more positively than children who didn’t have bearded dads. So, your kids will like your face however you have it, whether it is bearded or stubbly or clean. It’s really about what they are used to. You might want to keep in mind though, that kids who aren’t around bearded men much – so your kids’ friends for example – might find you a bit intimidating!