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The famed scientist Charles Darwin spent his later years sporting this large, bushy beard. He also wondered about beards - how did facial hair evolve? Darwin thought beards helped men charm the opposite sex. Actual scientific research on beards is, regrettably, scant. But researchers now know how beards are perceived by one important group of people. That would be children.
Here's NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: For most of human evolution, dudes had beards.
NICOLE NELSON: Until very recent history, beards were a very prominent element of men's faces. And so we must have expectations related to those. And it turns out that adults do.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Nicole Nelson studies face perception at the University of Queensland in Australia. She says past work by her colleague Barnaby Dixson has shown that beards make men look older, stronger, and more masculine, at least to adults.
NELSON: And so we were wondering whether or not all of those expectations emerge in adulthood or if they're there throughout our lives.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Her team tested this in over 400 kids, from toddlers to teenagers. Researchers would show kids two photos side-by-side - a man with a beard and the same man clean-shaven.
NELSON: And then we just asked kids, so which man looks stronger? Which man looks older? Which man looks best?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: It turns out that even little kids associated beards with being older and stronger. But when asked which face was best, young kids were strongly anti-beard.
NELSON: As early as, you know, one year and nine months, they dislike beards. And kids, as they got older, up to about 13 years, continue to dislike beards even more.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Interestingly, around the age of puberty, young people changed. They started to like beards more and judged them more like adults do.
NELSON: So it seems like, probably, other people's faces mean different things to children depending on where they are developmentally.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: And experience seems to count too. Kids whose fathers had beards felt more warmly towards facial hair. The study appears in the journal Evolution And Human Behavior. Nelson says for men, beards offers certain advantages.
NELSON: I think it's a good move if you want to kind of boost your manliness - right? - if you want to look a little more dominant, you want to look a little bit older.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: The downside is that children may be slightly afraid of you.
Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
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