The Role of Hair in Human Relationships – A Brief History

Humans have been coping with hair loss for a very long time. Like most mammals, our distant ancestors were protected by a thick cover of body hair that cushioned their skin and helped them conserve body heat on cold nights. Emerging from cool shaded forests to cross the hot African savannah, humans began shedding hair to improve body temperature regulation. In addition to allowing the body to more efficiently rid itself of excess body heat through perspiration, newly bared skin increased the production of vitamin D, a vital adaptation that allowed early humans to survive as they trekked northward to settle Europe and Asia. Over time, humans lost almost all of their hair, with the exception of a thick patch retained on the scalp to protect the top of the head from the damaging effects of unfiltered ultraviolet radiation from the overhead sun.

Hair and Status

As humans spread out to colonize the globe, scalp hair slowly evolved into a complex ornamental structure capable of being shaped into a variety of styles that served as potent symbols of status and power in early cultures (Fig.1). For sparsely spread out nomadic tribes, hair served as a vital source of information when coming across other tribes. Even at a distance, hair styles conveyed striking visual cues capable of conveying the ages, gender, health, physical strength, temperament, reproductive status, and most importantly, presence of potential mates among individuals of a strange tribe. Such clues aided nomadic tribes in approaching potential allies, as well as helping them avoid potentially dangerous aggressors.

Venus of Brassempouyv2

Hair continues to exert a significant influence on human relationships in the modern world. In addition to revealing a person’s age, gender and overall health, contemporary hair styles often include visual clues that express social position, economic status, cultural habits and religious beliefs. And just like our ancestors, we often respond to such cues when making important decisions regarding interactions with others, especially in personal and business relationships. Little wonder then that modern, longer-lived humans experience significant levels of anxiety when confronted with thinning hair.