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Why is the human face hairless?

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Why is the human face hairless?

Asked by Tom Sherwood of Worthington, Minnesota

Most other mammals have hairy faces. So why are we humans an exception? In fact, most other higher order primates have facial hair patterns at least a little similar to our own. For instance, take chimpanzees.

Comparing the face of a chimpanzee to that of a recent U.S. President... Be that as it may. In both non-human higher order primates and humans, hair gathers around the face in a rather similar manner. It comes in varying degrees down the brow, around the ears, down alongside the cheeks, and forms a beard - at least in half of us.

The evolutionary adaptive virtue of a hairless face appears to be that it enables the clearer and easier sending and receiving of social messages through facial expressions. This was and is important for survival. As humans evolved into the complex creatures we are, and with a complex social organization to match complete with dominance hierarchies, etc., “reading” faces well makes a lot of sense.

We need to be able to discern more about the intentions of our fellow humans. We gain valuable clues as to the likely behaviors of others by watching their faces. We discover which individuals to trust, to fear, to comfort, to scold, and so on. We would be at a distinct disadvantage without the ability to “read” a face. Hairlessness makes it all so much better and easier to do so.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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