When it comes to the desirability of chest hair on a man as judged by women, folk wisdom suggests two possibilities. On the one hand, a reasonable amount of chest hair is often construed as a sign of virility and masculinity, which I hereby coin the Tom Selleck effect. As a side note, within the bear gay subculture, burly and very hairy guys are construed as models of desirability. Returning to the heterosexual context, many women disdain chest hair and instead proclaim that a hairless chest, especially if a man is well built, is quite attractive (see the recent Gillette commercial that addresses this exact issue). So is there no accounting for taste when it comes to men’s chest hairiness?
In a forthcoming paper to be published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, Pavol Prokop, Markus J. Rantala, Muhammet Usak, and Ibrahim Senay investigated several factors that might affect the extent to which women might prefer men with hairy chests. Prior to delving into the details of the study, readers might enjoy these two humorous clips from the 2005 film 40 Year-Old Virgin starring Steve Carell (Warning: viewer discretion is advised due to profanity) and from the television sitcom Seinfeld, each of which depicts the trials and tribulations of a man shaving his chest. Incidentally, in my books The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption (chapter 5), and The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature (chapter 6), I offer in-depth discussions of how evolutionary theory can be used when conducting content analyses of a wide range of cultural products including movies, television shows, song lyrics, literary and religious narratives, among others (see also Saad, 2012, and the recent press release and press coverage (Science Daily) of my work in this area).
Prokop et al.'s factors of interest included the extent of pathogens in local environments, the menstrual cycle, and fathers’ chest hairiness. The logic in each case was as follows: (1) The ectoparasite avoidance hypothesis posits that hairlessness reduces the likelihood of being infected with such parasites. Accordingly, environments rife with such parasites should yield a preference for less chest hair; (2) the menstrual cycle can affect this preference in one of several ways (depending on the operative mechanism) but if the ectoparasite avoidance hypothesis is veridical then one might expect that when conception is highest, women should have an increased preference for hairlessness (disease avoidance is heightened when maximally fertile); (3) Finally, if sexual imprinting is operative then women should exhibit chest hair preferences that match those of their fathers.
The study was conducted in Slovakia (lesser pathogens) and Turkey (greater pathogens). Women in both countries (n = 120 and n = 135 for the Slovakian and Turkish samples respectively once the various exclusionary criteria were applied) were exposed to pairs of photos of twenty men possessing chest hair or hairless. For each pair, they were asked to choose the photo that they viewed as more sexually attractive. A wide range of measures were elicited from the women including their personal perceived vulnerability to diseases, their disgust scores on three metrics (pathogenic, sexual, and moral disgust), their menstrual status, and their father’s hairiness (measured via a four-item scale). Regression analyses were subsequently conducted to establish whether the various independent variables listed above might affect a woman’s elicited chest hair preferences.
Two key findings:
1. Across the two countries, women’s preference for hairy chests was similar and quite low (21%).
2. None of the three variables mentioned above (density of pathogens, menstrual phase, father’s hairiness) was predictive of a woman’s elicited chest hair preferences.
In other words, to the extent that women exhibit heterogeneous preferences along this phenotypic trait, it is likely due to factors other than those identified by the researchers in question.
Two final points: (1) Note that the ectoparasite avoidance hypothesis recognizes the importance of culture-specific environments in shaping a mating-related preference. Hence, this again disproves the silly notion that evolutionary theory does not recognize the importance of culture when it comes to human affairs (see one of my earlier posts here wherein I explain common misconceptions regarding evolutionary psychology; see also chapter 1 of The Consuming Instinct). (2) Note that all of the posited hypotheses that I discussed in this post were falsified. Hence, the oft-repeated yet astonishingly false premise regarding evolutionary psychology’s apparent unfalsifiable hypotheses is yet again put into evidence.
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