If your girlfriend looks a touch like your mum — or your husband resembles your dad — you’re not alone.
According to the research of University of St. Andrews psychologist David Perrett, we’re attracted to the features that our parents had when we were born.
He proved it out in a series of studies. In a 2002 paper, Perrett and his colleagues asked experiment participants to rate the attractiveness of faces of different ages.
“We found that women born to ‘old’ parents (over 30) were less impressed by youth, and more attracted to age cues in male faces than women with ‘young’ parents (under 30),” the authors wrote. “For men, preferences for female faces were influenced by their mother’s age and not their father’s age, but only for long-term relationships.”
The parent-partner link goes even further than age.
In a follow-up study, Perrett and his colleagues found that people tend to be attracted to specific features that resemble those of their opposite-sex parent. A sample of 697 participants found that men and women were both likely to have romantic partners and opposite-sex parents who have the same eye colour and hair colour.
So if your dad has blond hair and blue eyes, you’re likely to have a boyfriend with blond hair and blue eyes.
It’s totally uncomfortable to think about, but Perrett argues that it makes psychological sense.
His two explanations for the reason people are attracted to partners that kind of look like their parents:
• Imprinting: As infants, our parents are the first humans we trust. They have certain hair and facial features, so we unconsciously take people with that same profile to be more trustworthy — and thus mateworthy — than others.
• Mere exposure effect: The more we’re around a person, the more we like them. It’s part of the reason that folks develop crushes in their schools, apartment buildings, and offices — you’re around those people all the time, so you prefer them to others. “[It’s] well established that people generally respond positively to familiar stimuli and parental traits may be very salient familiar features,” Perrett writes. “Individuals may choose partners who possess similar colour traits to their parents because they initially appear more familiar than prospective mates with different colour traits.”
It gives a whole new meaning to “having a type,” doesn’t it?
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