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GUEST COLUMN

Do your locks spell L-O-S-E-R?

Does your hairstyle determine how smart you are? Is your hair dumbing you down?

A Yale University study reveals that, at first meeting, people make assumptions about income, intelligence and sex appeal not based on your clothes or body, but based on your hair.

"Within seconds of meeting you, people begin forming a first impression about the type of person you are, and it's not your face that gives you away, it's your hairstyle," said Yale University Psychology Professor Dr. Marianne LaFrance, director of the "First Impressions and Hair Impressions" study.

Dumb blond jokes aside, LaFrance found that people perceive women with long straight hair - be it blond or brunette - as sexier yet less intelligent than their medium-length-haired counterparts.

Now, I don't want to split hairs here, but I wonder what exact point on your shoulders constitutes the dumb line? If your hair hangs lower than your breasts, does that mean you're a total numskull?

The study revealed that, even when the faces remained the same, simply changing hairstyles resulted in a complete difference in perception. LaFrance writes, "Different hairstyles significantly overpower whatever initial impressions were based on the face alone."

I suspect the root of the problem is that our perceptions are colored by our own anecdotal experiences.

While combing the Internet, I didn't find any long-haired lovelies up for the Nobel Prize. And very few women in the Yale faculty photo are sporting long tumbling tresses. (Let's be honest, Rapunzel wasn't exactly discovering penicillin up in that tower.)

People may brush off long-locked ladies as brainless bimbos, so says the study, and they cut long-haired men even less slack, judging them as less affluent than their more closely cropped counterparts.

However, despite perceived receding incomes, long-haired males were also assumed to be more open-minded. I guess people believe that if a man's follicles can open up enough to push out 12 inches of hair, there must be a bit of space left for some new ideas, too.

Judgments about men with standard-issue, corporate cuts were bizarrely split-ended. Medium-length, side-parted hair was seen as a sign of intelligence and prosperity. However, men with these styles were also perceived to be the most narrow-minded.

I must part with the prevailing view on this one. I fail to see a common strand between intelligence and narrow-mindedness. In fact, I can't think of two styles more permanently at odds. I'm more conditioned to agree with the hair hype about the male manes that make women want to extend fringe benefits.

Men with short, front-flip hairstyles were viewed as the most sexy and confident. Just off the top of my head, I'm guessing that explains why Matt Damon - People's "Sexiest Man Alive" - stands head and shoulders above game show host Howie Mandel, who has nothing to tease but his contestants.

For me, the highlight of the study was the belief that women with short, tousled hairstyles are the most confident and outgoing. My somewhat shaggy, above-the-shoulder do puts me at the same station with the study's author, LaFrance, whose short-shorn locks no doubt resulted in her getting tenure ahead of her Marcia Brady-style counterparts. (I can't help but wonder what her hair looked like before the study results came in. I'm picturing Daisy Duke.)

The long and short of it is, we all make judgments based on appearance, however hair-brained our conclusions may be. Do with this information what you will. But I say the secret formula is to find a style that reflects your true self.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear."

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