The Psychology of Hair

Chances are, your hair sets the mood for your day. Find out why women’s tresses mean so much.

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| August 10th, 2011

When good hair goes bad: Why hair can sink your mood
Reasonably, if good hair can boost self-confidence, then when it misbehaves, it can have the opposite effect. A Yale study led by LaFrance and commissioned by Procter & Gamble found that when subjects recalled a bad hair day, their self-esteem dropped. Specifically, “bad hair” increased social insecurity and self-criticism and lowered performance self-esteem, hurting subjects’ can-do attitude toward personal accomplishments.

MORE: Tried and True Frizz-Fighting Methods

“We make choices every day about the kind of person we want to be, and we ask ourselves, do we look our best? Are we putting out there what we want people to see? The choices we make about how we look say something about our social identities and when the choices fit, that’s terrific, but when it doesn’t you feel out of sorts and that loss of control can derail your self-confidence,” LaFrance says. The stress is on par with spilling coffee on your blouse, she says. “It can make your mood sink like a stone, in the same way.” 

While there’s no question that bad hair is, well, a bummer, it isn’t the end of the world. Research on appearance indicates that no one else is as focused on the snafu as you are.

“Although judgments are made quickly, they seem to be based on a number of variables,” says Swami, whose own research has shown that when others look at you, your hair, face and body are equally calculated with no single attribute standing out more than the other. Other studies support the notion that details like a rogue curl or bit of frizz seem to get by everyone else.

To prove this, in a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers asked 44 college students to walk into a classroom of fellow students while wearing a T-shirt with either an embarrassing or flattering image. The students wearing the embarrassing shirts thought they stuck out like a sore thumb, but that actually wasn’t the case.

THE STUDY, EXPLAINED: Others Rarely Notice Our Flaws

Once the subjects left, the majority of students in the room could not recall the image on their shirts. Researchers concluded that people overestimate how much others notice their appearance both positively and negatively and that the “social spotlight” doesn’t shine on us as much as we think.

Remember that on a rainy day when your bangs misbehave or if your locks are curlier or straighter than you’d like. In the larger picture, no one will notice.

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