September 05, 2008

People tend to pick spouses who resemble their opposite-sex parent

NOTE [29 Jan 09] Apparently this paper has been retracted.

In this paper, it is shown that men are more similar to their wife's father than to a random man from the population, and similarly women are more similar to their husband's father.

This was assessed both by using observers' ratings of likeness between two individuals, but also by examining the correlations between facial features.

Spouses' features were correlated with each other, with the most important correlation being in the nose length/face height ratio (r=0.728), suggesting that men with prominent noses tend to marry similar women.

The most important correlation between a woman's father and her husband was also in this ratio (r=0.72).

The most important correlation between a man's mother and his wife was in the jaw width/face width ratio (the zygo-gonial index), with r=0.928. Quite strong correlations were also found for the inverse facial index (face length/face width, r=0.786) and the lip fullness/lip width (r=0.676).

Proceedings of the Royal Society B DOI 10.1098/rspb.2008.1021

Facialmetric similarities mediate mate choice: sexual imprinting on opposite-sex parents

Tamas Bereczkei, Gabor Hegedus, Gabor Hajnal


Former studies have suggested that imprinting-like processes influence the shaping of human mate preferences. In this study, we provide more direct evidence for assessing facial resemblance between subjects' partner and subjects' parents. Fourteen facial proportions were measured on 312 adults belonging to 52 families, and the correlations between family members were compared with those of pairs randomly selected from the population. Spouses proved to be assortatively mated in the majority of measured facial proportions. Significant correlations have been found between the young men and their partner's father (but not his mother), especially on facial proportions belonging to the central area of the face. Women also showed resemblance to their partner's mother (but not to their father) in the facial characteristics of their lower face. Replicating our previous studies, facial photographs of participants were also matched by independent judges who ascribed higher resemblance between partners, and subjects and their partners' opposite-sex parents, compared with controls. Our results support the sexual imprinting hypothesis which states that children shape a mental template of their opposite-sex parents and search for a partner who resembles that perceptual schema. The fact that only the facial metrics of opposite-sex parents showed resemblance to the partner's face tends to rule out the role of familiarity in shaping mating preferences. Our findings also reject several other rival hypotheses. The adaptive value of imprinting-related human mating is discussed, and a hypothesis is made of why different facial areas are involved in males' and females' search for resemblance.



McG said...

In my case, Gentlemen prefer blondes.

puolimieli said...

It should be noted that the Bereczkei et al. paper has been retracted. Apparently, it's all bull. Bereczkei believes in psychoanalysis, and a finding that people seek sexual partners who look like their parents would of course lend empirical support to Oedipus and Electra complexes. Perhaps Bereczkei et al. fabricated all of their results in the best Freudian tradition.

See here for the retraction.