IVASHstudio/Shutterstock
Source: IVASHstudio/Shutterstock

Most men without hair would agree that being bald is sexy. However, most men with hair would rather retain their locks than become bald—a clear discrepancy. But there is some scientific research that suggests baldness has a number of social advantages.

It’s hard to deny that our physical appearance matters in society. What we look like on the outside can determine (to an extent) the shape of our career, what kind of people we associate with, who we marry, and how socially successful we are in general.

People draw inferences about someone else’s personality based on appearance all the time. For example, in both men and women, having small squinty eyes and thin lips suggests that a person is dominant, while big eyes and full lips suggest submissiveness.

Research shows us that physically attractive individuals are credited with a range of desirable attributes, which is hardly surprising. Anyone who has ever had any kind of interaction with anyone will tell you that being beautiful or handsome opens doors.

Numerous studies have documented the tendency of people to form an overall impression about something, and subsequently base their evaluation of other aspects relevant to that on their initially-formed impression (e.g. that guy/girl has a great physique, he/she must also be really confident/hardworking/happy, etc.). Research has found that physically attractive people are judged to be more musically competent, and that they receive more favorable treatment by juries, are perceived as less deceptive, and are regarded as being more successful in general

Traditionally, baldness—or the notable lack of a luscious head of hair—has been associated with undesirable characteristics (weakness, impotence, etc.), whereas a thick flowing mane has been tied to traits like strength and virility. Men who choose to shave their heads might seem a bit curious, as a shorn head has historically been equated with restrained sexuality and even been seen as "symbolic castration."

The truth is that a lot of men shave their heads because they are going bald. Research suggests that about half of all men will experience some kind of male pattern baldness by the time they are 50. It has been linked with things like poor self-esteem and body image, the perception of being old, and depression. It’s hardly that surprising then that worldwide, men spend nearly $3.5 billion naturally trying to either hide or reverse their natural hair loss.

Contrary to popular belief, baldness is not caused by lifting weights. Although the two things have been linked, there is no evidence that one is caused by the other. In fact, there is evidence that increased testosterone may contribute to someone going to the gym, and to male baldness.

The Benefits

Research in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that there are some fairly major benefits to being bald. The researchers had participants (men and women) rate photos of bald men, and men with a full head of hair, on how dominant, agreeable, and old they might be. The bald men were perceived to be about one year older, slightly more agreeable, and much more dominant. Overall, being bald, or not, made a big difference in how men were perceived. (The researchers also looked at the race of the men—African American or Caucasian—but found that it didn’t make a difference.)

But what if the men who were bald or had shaved heads were naturally more dominant (the same qualities that led them to baldness also may have led them to be more dominant)? In the second part of the study, the researchers had one group of participants rate photos of men with full heads of hair, and another group rate the same men, but with their hair digitally removed.

Because only their hair was modified, any differences between the groups had to be due to baldness. This time the bald men were rated as being...:

  • 13 percent more dominant.
  • 6 percent more confident.
  • 10 percent more masculine.
  • About an inch taller.
  • 13 percent stronger.
  • Nearly four years older.

Finally, the researchers wanted to see if these perceptions remained even if men described in words with no photos were considered. This time they added men whose hair was "thinning but not bald" into the mix. Again, the researchers found that completely bald men were perceived to be more dominant, more masculine, and stronger, ​and to have marginally better leadership skills. But men with thinning hair fared far worse than either bald men or those with a full head of hair.

The message from this research seems clear: If you are going bald, embrace it. It really is a case of all or nothing.

About the Author

Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson, BSc, BPsych, is a psychologist and zoologist currently undertaking doctoral studies at James Cook University examining mate choice. 

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