BBC News, September 3, 2008
Women tend to choose husbands who look like their fathers, a study shows.
And it works both ways—the women in the Proceedings B study also resembled their partner’s mother.
The latest work from the University of Pécs in Hungary provides yet more evidence for the phenomenon, known as sexual imprinting.
Others have shown women use dads as a template for picking a mate even if they are adopted, suggesting imprinting is led by experience not simply genes.
This notion is backed by other work showing the imprinting link is lost on women who did not have good relationships with their fathers.
The Hungarian team measured the facial proportions of the members of 52 families.
They found significant correlations between the young men and their fathers-in-law, especially on facial proportions belonging to the central area of face—nose and eyes.
Women also showed resemblance to their mothers-in-law in the facial characteristics of their lower face—lips and jaw.
Lead researcher Tamas Bereczkei said: “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.”
Familiarity alone does not appear to account for choosing a partner because the participants did not adopt templates for their same-sex parents, they said.
They say males and females choose different facial areas of parents to be models in accordance with their general sexual preferences for facial traits.
Experts say there may be an advantage to selecting a mate somewhat similar to themselves genetically.
Dr Lynda Boothroyd from the University of Durham, a psychologist who has carried out similar research, said: “There is an argument that a certain degree of similarity makes people more fertile and genetically compatible.”
But there is a balance between the benefits of marrying someone genetically close and the risks of inbreeding.
“We have a lot of mechanisms—such as pheromones and smell—to stop us choosing someone too similar to us, like an immediate family member,” said Dr Boothroyd.