Friday, March 31, 2017

Hair signals

The hair on our heads grows continuously, a trait unique to our species. In evolutionary terms, countless millennia ago human body hair (aka, fur) was reduced to a relatively insignificant amount, while the hair on our heads began to grow, and keep growing, throughout our lives. What is that all about?

According to an Evolutionary Anthropology article "Hair Grows To Be Cut," continuous hair growth allows us to manipulate our hair to send signals to others that "herald the cultural identity of their bearer, providing cues about tribal belonging, rank in the community, marital status, and value or history of individuals."

In a related article, "Hair Signals," it states:
Truly untended hair implies that the wearer is desperate or insane and, furthermore, has no friends. Pseudo-untended hair signals ritual mourning in some cultures or, more often, cultural revolt (hippy ponytails, dreadlocks).
By contrast, tended hair, no matter the method, broadcasts one or more signals.

Take the photo above. One haircut can produce a variety of looks: business woman, adventurer, fun lover, come hither ... It all depends on how you present your message.

But not all messages are intentional. Several years ago, I shifted my hair color from brown to red, in part on the recommendation of my hair stylist. Right away, men started doing double-takes when they hadn't before. Was I sending some kind of signal? The next time I went in for a cut, I mentioned it to Jeff, thinking he'd have the answer, but apparently not.

"Really? No way," he said.

"Yes way. I mean, it's never happened before. I really think there's some weird attraction men have to red hair."

"That's kinda creepy," Jeff said, but I could tell he wasn't entirely convinced. Like maybe I was imagining it.

Regardless, the double-takes weren't leading to anything untoward, and I even found it a bit flattering, so I hung onto the red.

I've since found it wasn't my imagination. There is indeed something about men experiencing an increased attraction to women who wear red. In 2008, psychologists at the University of Rochester studied men's reactions to women in red, as compared with men's reactions to women in gray, green, and blue. Hands down, red was the hot color of choice.
Under all of the conditions, the women shown framed by or wearing red were rated significantly more attractive and sexually desirable by men than the exact same women shown with other colors. When wearing red, the woman was also more likely to score an invitation to the prom and to be treated to a more expensive outing. ... [However,] red did not change how men rated the women in the photographs in terms of likability, intelligence or kindness.
The study also looked at women's reactions to women in red, and found the "red effect" only happened for men. The article concludes "As much as men might like to think that they respond to women in a thoughtful, sophisticated manner, it appears that at least to some degree, their preferences and predilections are, in a word, primitive."

As primitive as the origins of our continuously growing hair, and the many ways we choose to flaunt it.