Do you prefer men clean-shaven or scruffy? While it may seem like just a personal preference (and maybe based on your tolerance for morning-after whisker burn), it turns out that our environment can actually dictate how we feel about facial hair. Women are more attracted to men with facial hair when those traits are less common, and they're more attracted than usual to clean-shaven men when those are the rarity, too, according to a new study published in Biology Letters.
Researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia created an online survey that asked over 1,400 heterosexual or bisexual women and 213 heterosexual males to rate the attractiveness of men in photos. The men in the images were photographed periodically: once when clean-shaven, then again when they had light stubble, heavy stubble, and a full beard. Both men and women said those with facial hair (of all types) were more attractive when those were in the minority, but when hairy faces were more common in the mix of images, clean-shaven men were rated as more attractive than normal. Although it's interesting to note that even when smooth-skinned guys were in the minority, men with facial hair were still rated as more attractive overall.
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Researchers suggest that this means facial hair is the most attractive when it's uncommon, which may explain why you're mysteriously drawn to the lone, full-bearded guy at the bar, but less into this look when you're surrounded by scruff.
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This isn't the first study that shows how weird things can influence your attraction to others; research shows that the pill can actually decide who you date, your diet can determine romantic interest, and pheromones may play a role, too. So at the end of the day, your preferences for scruff or smooth skin might actually be one of the least bizarre things that influences your interest.