The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on April 14 on a Journal of Marketing Communications study suggesting that men with beards are perceived as more trustworthy – at least when they’re selling something.
Participants in the study were shown pictures of men – some with beards, some without – who were endorsing products like cell phones and toothpaste. The response? Participants thought the men with beards had greater expertise and were significantly more trustworthy, at least when selling those items. Remember Billy Mays? He sold tons of Oxi-Clean.
The trend wasn’t always true. Participants favored smooth-shaven guys when they were selling underwear, which makes sense. A beard-and-briefs combination isn’t the most attractive of thoughts.
It should also be noted that none of the bearded dudes looked like Santa Claus, Osama Bin Laden or Billy Gibbons of Z.Z. Top. The study pitchmen were all neatly trimmed, no longer than medium length. I wonder what the response would have been if they’d used men with the sort of Van Dyke goatee they used to put on villains in the movies.
The study authors apparently put a lot of stock in their research, suggesting that political candidates might want to grow beards because the “presence of a beard on the face of candidates could boost their charisma, reliability and above all their expertise as perceived by voters, with positive effects on voting intention.” It worked on Abraham Lincoln, but it’s harder to imagine full facial fuzz on any of our recent presidents.
So, by extrapolation, should pastors or other ministers also grow beards in order to increase their credibility? Lots of the more contemporary preacher types go for the three day’s growth look or wear a goatee. Does that make them more trustworthy? Would it work for professors?
I don’t know. What I am sure of is the kind of scraggly scruff I could grow would probably scare people away rather than winning their trust. I’ll just have to stick with my face and take my chances.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.