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Do Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?

Blonde women: Approached more frequently but judged more harshly.

There are many everyday expressions that speak to specific physical attributes. These include: tall, dark, and handsome; fiery redhead; bad hair day; and bedroom eyes. Of all appearance-based sayings stereotypes, perhaps none are as ubiquitous as those associated with blonde hair. Many titles of products of popular culture include references to blonde hair including the classic 1953 movie "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell), and Rod Stewart's 1978 smash album titled "Blondes Have More Fun."

As a Canadian, I must mention

Platinum Blonde, a Torontonian New Wave group whose claim to fame was in part shaped by their massive blond coiffure. Returning to the various "blonde" stereotypes, is there any truth to these widely held beliefs? Do men truly have a preference for blondes? Are blondes judged differently along a wide range of traits?

In a recent article published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, Viren Swami and Seishin Barrett conducted two studies to: (1) determine whether the same woman would be differentially approached by men at one of three nightclubs as a function of whether she was a brunette, blonde, or redhead (hair color was manipulated using dye); (2) gauge whether photos of the same woman sporting the latter three hair colors (the confederate of study 1) would yield different evaluations by men along the following ten traits: physical attractiveness, sexual promiscuity, intelligence, introversion, neuroticism, approachability, competency, arrogance, neediness, and temperamentality. The two studies were conducted in the greater London (England) area. Studies 1 and 2 consisted of 120 and 126 male participants respectively. Here are the main findings.

Study 1: (approaches at a nightclub, as reported in Table 1 of the article)

Blonde Brunette Redhead

Nightclub 1 26 16 4

Nightclub 2 15 12 8

Nightclub 3 19 14 6

Total 60 42 18

The proportions are statistically different from one another (p < .001) in the posited manner (i.e., blondes were approached more frequently than brunettes and redheads).

Study 2: (key statistically significant findings, as reported in Table 2 of the article)

Brunette: Scored higher than the two other hair colors on physical attraction, intelligence, competence, and arrogance. Scored higher than the redhead on approachability.

Blonde: Scored higher than the two other hair colors on neediness.

Redhead: Scored higher than the two other hair colors temperamentality. This seems to be a manifestation of the "fiery redhead" stereotype.

No differences along sexual promiscuity, introversion, and neuroticism.

As the authors point out, it is difficult to reconcile the results of the two studies into a coherent storyline. For example, in study 1, the blonde confederate was the most frequently approached but was judged as less attractive than the brunette in study 2. Furthermore, the blonde was judged as being as approachable as the brunette and redhead, so this could not explain the findings of study 1. That men approached the blonde confederate more frequently cannot be attributed to an ascription of greater sexual promiscuity to the blonde given that study 2 found no differences along that particular trait. Bottom line: It would appear (at least within this restricted sample) that blonde women might be approached more frequently in a nightclub but are generally judged more harshly along a wide range of traits. Hair color preference is likely driven by individual idiosyncrasies as well cross-cultural differences (i.e., this is a preference that is minimally if at all rooted in evolutionary principles notwithstanding the fact that some researchers have argued that lighter hair is associated with youthfulness, a trait universally fancied by men). For a discussion of hair cuts from an evolutionary perspective, readers might wish to check out my 2007 academic book The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption, as well as my 2011 trade book The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature.

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