Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Which hair colour is the most attractive?

 Intuition suggests beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And so surely hair colour comes down to personal preference? However, according to psychological research there is a general consensus among the public regards which hair colour is preferred and considered most attractive.
Nicolas Guéguen from the Université de Bretagne-Sud, in France, has recently published a research paper in the academic journal ‘Psychological Studies’ entitled 'Hair Colour and Courtship: Blond Women Received More Courtship Solicitations and Redhead Men Received More Refusals'.

In Guéguen's study, a female subject sat in a night club for one hour, and the number of men who approached asking for a dance was measured. The experiment was carried out on 16 different nights in a four-week period. Each subject tested four different wigs four times (in order to make sure men were not approaching women for other attractive qualities/variables). In that decisive hour, overall, 127 men approached the women wearing a blond wig, 84 men approached the brown wigged lady, 82 went up to the black haired woman but only 29 approached the red haired lady.
Considering that women are supposed to be less impressed by mere physical appearance, when evaluating how attracted they are to men, how would different hair colour fare on men when it came to women's desire in a similar night club scenario? Four 20 year old male confederates were instructed to ask a woman for a dance. 27.5% of the women said yes to men wearing a blond wig, 30% for the men with a brown wig, 35% acceptances for the invitation to dance were received for men wearing black hair, but only 13.8 % for men who donned a red wig.

Although psychologists argue that women are less interested in men's physical characteristics when it comes to what determines attractiveness, (compared to men's preferences in women), it seems that red hair is associated with dramatically less responsiveness to men's courtship requests from women.

While redheads are considered significantly less attractive in both studies. Greater variation exists in the female wig wearing condition. Guéguen cites previous research into blond female door-to-door fundraisers receiving more donations, than their brunette counterparts. Another prior study found waitresses with blond hair got more tips. Probably more comprehensively, research, which included more than 12,000 American men using a popular dating website, found that men showed a preference for blondes over other hair colours. In yet another previous study, female confederates in their early twenties, were asked to hitchhike while wearing a blond, brown or black wig. Blond, compared to brown or black hair was associated with more male drivers stopping to offer rides, whereas no effect from hair colour was found on female drivers who stopped.

Previously Viren Swami and Seishin Barrett, psychologists at the University of Westminster, London, had earlier conducted a similar experiment to Gueguen’s. In their study the female subject, a natural brunette, dyed her hair blond and red. She sat in various nightclubs over many weeks, and the experimenters observed and counted how many men approached her during a one hour period. When she was blond, 60 men came up to her, while brunette the figure dropped to 42 and then when red, male interest languished at 18 approaches.

Very interestingly, Swami and Barrett also surveyed men in these same nightclubs probing them on attitude to female hair colour, using pictures of the same female confederate with different hair colours. In the study (entitled 'British men's hair colour preferences: An assessment of courtship solicitation and stimulus ratings'), when she was brunette the woman was actually rated as most attractive from her image. So how come men approached her more, when she was blond?

One theory Swami and Barrett propose is based on the fact that their female confederate in the experiment was also rated as more 'needy' by men when she was a blond in the photographs, than when she was a brunette or redhead. The study has recently been published in the 'Scandinavian Journal of Psychology' and argues blonds being perceived as needier may have encouraged men to make approaches, possibly because it induced greater feelings of dominance or confidence in them, which in turn reduced their inhibition.
Perceptions of the blond confederate as being needy may have reduced men's fear of rejection or fear of a hostile response. This of course increased their behaviour in approaching her as a blond.

Interestingly men rated the brunette in the pictures as most intelligent compared to all the hair colours, but also the most arrogant. The red head picture was rated as the least shy, the most temperamental and the most sexually promiscuous of all hair colours. And they might be right about the promiscuous part. A University of Hamburg study found that redheads have more active sex lives than brunettes and blondes!

Guéguen reports previous research which found over 80% express a dislike for people with red hair, and also that the skin colour of most redheads was the most disliked of the eight skin colours proposed in a prior experiment.

Takeda and colleagues pose an interesting question in their paper published in 2006 in the academic periodical, 'Journal of Human Behaviour in the Social Environment' - should hair colour be included in the anti-discrimination legislation? They point out if selection of CEOs is partly based on hair colour, as their research indicates, does it constitute discriminatory prejudice?

The authors note that in the US, for example, colour as currently defined in the statutory basis for non-discrimination in employment, refers to the shade of a person's skin, and not race alone. This is because within a race, a variety of skin colours can exist. There is well-documented bias in favour of lighter skin so US discrimination laws refer to skin colour, but, in the light of recent research, should they now also include hair colour?

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