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Thursday, July 2, 2015

How Shaved Heads are Perceived | Shaving A Man’s Head and its Effect on Social Perception

Q: How does a man’s decision to shave his head affect how they are socially perceived?

A: Having a shaved head does affect how a person is perceived by others. The decision to shave should take into account the following set of experiments, performed by Albert Mannes, PhD, at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania.

Study 1

In this study, photographs of 25 men with identical dark suit, tie, and background were taken. Ten (five white, five black) men had shaved heads. The remaining 15 men had various hair styles. The men had minimal facial hair.
Fifty-nine students viewed the photographs of all 25 men and rated them on perceiveddominance and agreeableness.
Sixty other students rated all 25 men on attractiveness and estimated their age.


  • The 25 men did not differ significantly in agreeableness, attractiveness, or perceived age.
  • However, the men with shaved heads were rated as more dominant.

Study 2

However, maybe the Study 1 results could be explained by saying that more dominant men chose to shave their heads (not that shaving one’s head caused them to be perceived as more dominant).

To test this hypothesis, Study 2 took pictures of four men (who were previously rated as basically the same in age and attractiveness) and digitally “shaved” them, so there were both shaven and unshaven pictures of the same men.

367 adults were randomly presented one of the eight photographs and rated the man on:
  • Dominance
  • Confidence
  • Norm Violation (whether the person seemed to “run counter to the grain” of society)
  • Masculinity
  • Attractiveness
  • Estimated age, height, and strength (maximum bench press)
  • Leadership potential

Participants who were suspicious of the photos (i.e. they could tell they were digitally altered or correctly guessed the purpose of the study) were removed from the sample


  • The shaved pictures were rated as:
  • More dominant, confident, masculine, older, taller, and stronger
  • The unshaved pictures were rated as:
  • More attractive
  • There was no difference between shaved and unshaved in:
  • Norm violation and leadership ability

In other words, not only did digitally “shaving” the men cause them to appear more masculine, dominant, and confident, it also caused people to overestimate their physical size and strength!

Study 3

The previous studies compared men who had hair vs. those who shaved their whole heads. But what about men who have naturally thinning hair?

552 participants were given a name (“John”) and physical description of a man, including his general appearance and size, his job, education, and age (35).
The descriptions only differed in the description of the man’s hair style: either a shaved head, thinning brown hair, or thick brown hair.

Participants were asked to estimate the man on the same characteristics:
  • Dominance
  • Confidence
  • Masculinity
  • Norm violation
  • Attractiveness
  • Leadership ability
  • Strength


“John” with thinning hair was rated the least on all attributes except norm violation.
  • In other words, including “thinning hair” in the description made John seem less dominant, confident, masculine, attractive, strong, and having less leadership ability.

Having a shaved head was perceived as more dominant, confident, masculine, attractive, and strong than having thinning hair.


Having a shaved head results in greater perceptions of dominance, confidence, masculinity, strength, and height.

Anyone seeking to enhance these characteristics may choose to shave their heads.

If a man’s hair is thinning, he may choose to shave his head in order to gain a boost in these characteristics (plus perceived leadership ability).

Those who shaved their heads were not seen as “norm violators.”
  • So don’t worry about being seen as a rebel if you shave your head!

Having hair is still rated as more attractive.

As always, use common sense.
  • The study did not test whether certain people looked better or worse with shaved heads – just overall averages.


Mannes, A. E. (2012). Shorn scalps and perceptions of male dominance. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(2), 1-8. Retrieved from:http://opim.wharton.upenn.edu/DPlab/papers/publishedPapers/Mannes_2012_%20Shorn%20scalps%20and%20perceptions%20of%20male%20dominance.pdf

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