The Trustworthiness Of Beards - Does A Beard Build Trust?

The Trustworthiness Of Beards - Does A Beard Build Trust?
  • Physical appearance have always had its influence on decision making when it comes to interpersonal relations on a daily basis. Every single one of us is guilty of that.
  • But what do physical appearance and personality have to do with each other in the business world? And what are the physical signs of a trustworthy person?
  • Is the trustworthiness of facial hair actually a thing? Do business owners pay attention to similar details while hiring? Let's find out.

the trustworthiness of beards

Apparently, a man’s beard can say a lot about his trustworthiness. 

Full beards, goatee + moustache are considered to be signs of a trustworthy person, a full moustache - mildly trustworthy, and the neck beard sans moustache - quite threatening.

Indeed, the scientific basis for the trustworthiness of beards is questionable at best, however a 2012 study from Warwick Business School, the University College London and Dartmouth College found that the physical appearance of a person is closely related to their perceived level of trustworthiness. They found that, in the financial services industry in particular, the more trustworthy you look to potential clients, despite your reputation to support this perception or not, the more likely you are to attract higher dollar investments.

They found that most people prefer to go with their own instincts about whether someone looks trustworthy, even if there is evidence that may challenge their ‘gut feel’.

The Trustworthiness Of Beards - Does A Beard Build Trust?

What do physical appearance and personality have to do with each other?

Beauty bias has also been widely researched and evidence shows that tall and attractive men get promoted faster and are paid more than their less attractive counterparts, and at the other end of the spectrum unattractive, overweight women are the most discriminated group of all. A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that obese women were more likely to be denied employment, receive lower salaries, and perceived to have less leadership potential.

So, what does this mean for selection and hiring decisions if some part of these decisions are biased by our perception of how attractive and trustworthy a candidate is? Trustworthiness is one of the most important variables for social and economic interactions. Being considered to be a trustworthy person goes hand in hand with integrity and ethics.

If we perceive someone to be trustworthy based on their looks, then we will assign them integrity as well and unconsciously look for evidence in their behaviour to support this impression and disregard evidence that challenges it.

Most of the time, things probably work out the way we expect them to. The people we perceive to be the most trustworthy probably earn this mantle through their behaviour anyway, so we are none the wiser that our biases having come into play. But what about those times when our perception is wrong? When we are blinded by someone’s attractiveness or perceived trustworthiness and this leads to hiring people who may engage in unsafe and risky counterproductive behaviours on the job. (This must be particularly hard for men looking for jobs during Movember!).  

For example, (assuming he has done the wrong thing and is not a scapegoat), would James Hird (suspended Essendon coach), been given the flick sooner if he wasn’t the Golden Boy and hero of the Club? His trustworthiness was assumed based on the level of revere assigned to James both within and outside the Club.

How to evaluate the trustworthiness of a person?

A more objective way to assess trustworthiness is through the use of psych tests specifically designed to measure the likelihood of people engaging in counterproductive behaviours. Identifying a person’s propensity to follow rules, resist risk and temptation, reflect on their own behaviour, and be honest, can assist in providing defensible evidence to attest to their trustworthiness. 

At the end of the day, most of us will rely on our ‘gut feel’ to make decisions, but at least such assessments provide evidence to support or challenge this and make us more aware of our biases and how they impact our decisions.  

So the question is, what do YOU think about judging by appearance in the business world?

Prue Laurence

Director at Psylutions

Prue Laurence is the Director and Principal Consulting Psychologist with Psylutions. She plays an integral role in the design and implementation of the suite of Psylutions services. A registered psychologist, Prue has over 15 years of business consulting experience within both the government and commercial fields. Preferring to work closely with her clients, Prue is passionate about ensuring they receive tailored and seamless delivery of Psylutions services.

Comments (1)
Yee Trinh

Yee Trinh, Cofounder at

This is an interesting discussion about facial hair and doing business. People’s perception also depends on the profession. I read a survey that the trustworthiness of beards or facial hair depends on the job it is associated with. Beards are positively associated with professors, psychologists, artists and engineer. It is negatively associated with politicians, salesmen and diplomats, and neutral for farmers and factory workers. Personally, I don’t mind beards or moustaches in the workplace. But it should be well-groomed. Gillette did a study and majority of respondents are neutral as long as the facial hair is well-cared for. An unruly beard may imply a negative work ethic, personal hygiene, management and organisation. Therefore, having a beard doesn’t make you less or more trustworthy but having an unkempt one doesn’t help first impressions or build trust.