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Shaved Heads: Less Attractive But More Powerful

• July 23, 2012 • 9:00 AM

Toss the toupee: New research finds Americans associate shiny scalps with masculine dominance.

Men: Do you want to project an aura of confidence, strength and overall masculinity? You could experiment with testosterone supplements, or study the swagger of Don Draper during a Mad Men marathon.

Or you could just shave your head.

Three newly published studies “provide consistent evidence that a shaved scalp is associated with dominance,” according to Albert Mannes of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Writing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, he reports that, at least in U.S. culture, a lack of hair connotes a forceful, assertive personality.

Guys opt for the “shaved style” because “it looks sharp and intimidating,” according to a style columnist for the Ask Men website. While “sharp” is in the eye of the beholder, Mannes’ research suggests “intimidating” is right on the mark.

In his first experiment, photos of 25 men enrolled in a university’s MBA program were evaluated by a panel of 59 students. Each man wore a similar dark suit and tie, but 10 had shaved heads; the others wore their hair at varying lengths. The bald men were judged as more powerful, influential, and authoritative than their combed counterparts.

The second experiment featured 344 members of a national online panel. Researchers selected photos of four guys with hair, then had them digitally altered so that the men looked bald. Participants looked at either one of the original, untouched photos, or one of the altered images; they then provided a detailed assessment of the man in question.

“Ratings of dominance, confidence, masculinity, age, height, and strength were all higher for these men when pictured with a digitally shaved head,” Mannes reports. “The men were viewed as nearly an inch taller and 13 percent stronger with shaved heads vs. with hair.”

Don’t reach for that razor quite yet. Mannes found the Yul Brynner look came with a down side. The men were consistently viewed as less attractive when their heads were shaved.

A third study featured 552 members of an online panel, who read a short description of a rather generic man: “John is a white, non-Hispanic male. He works in the health-care sector and has a basic college education.”

The bio ended in one of three ways: John was described as either having thinning hair, thick hair, or a shaved head. After typing the description verbatim into a provided space, participants were asked to evaluate John on several scales, including forcefulness and assertiveness.

“People perceived John as more dominant when described with a shaved head,” Mannes writes. “This difference emerged based only on a short and pallid description of an otherwise identical man, so other unobserved differences cannot account for the effect.”

Mannes concedes these results are somewhat surprising, in that “across time and cultures, a thick mane has been associated with strength, youth and virility.” (In the third experiment described above, John with “thinning hair” was viewed the least favorably.)

But he notes there is a big difference between losing one’s hair and voluntarily parting with it. “Choosing to dispense with one’s hair is arguably a form of nonverbal behavior, a form of expression which communicates information about the self,” he writes.

In contemporary America, “shaved heads are often found on men in traditionally masculine professions” such as sports, the military and law enforcement, Mannes notes. “Dominance may emerge through stereotypical associations with those figures.”

All this suggests shaved heads may give men an advantage in certain situations. Mannes writes that “prior research suggests that people are more conciliatory in bargaining situations toward people they view as dominant figures. If so, then it is reasonable to predict, all else equal, that men with shaved heads will fare better economically in negotiations.”

So rather than “spending billions each year trying to reverse or cure their hair loss,” the best strategy for balding men may be to shave their heads. It may not make them better looking, but Mannes argues it could help them come across as someone with leadership potential.

And if you take issue with these findings, you might want to think twice before confronting Mannes too forcefully. If you check out his official Wharton School photo, you’ll find he sports a shaved head.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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