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The Lowdown on Attraction: Looks We Look For

The Lowdown on Attraction: Looks We Look For


Why do we seem to like people who look similar to us? I did my homework and gathered what I feel are better, more concise explanations just for you, right here.

We Love Ourselves

In 2010, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin did an experiment on attraction. They morphed photos of strangers with photos of the subjects. When subjects were asked to rate the morphed photos in a group mixed with plain photos of strangers, the edited photos ultimately ranked higher.

You must have heard something along these lines before. Claims that couples you know look so alike, sometimes even mistaken as brother and sister. Or that couples that grow old together start to resemble each other more.

 But do you know the science behind the phenomena?

An article on Indiatimes.com noted two main points to explain the questions above. One, that similarity in physical appearance is an important factor for initial attraction. Research by a psychologist at University of Illinois suggests that people desire familiarity, and are innately attracted to someone who looks like them. And this in turn makes them trust a face that looks more like their own and contribute to a longer lasting relationship.

Two, a psychologist from University of Michigan found that older couples tend to look more similar because they are in close contact and subconsciously mimic each other’s facial expressions. The happier the couple the more similar the features.

Of course, the above-mentioned article also attributes genetics and social reasons as factors. This includes the following which I have simplified into digestible points:

  •    People who are distantly genetically related have a higher chance of getting married than people who are not. (I.e. your third or fourth removed cousin. Freaky, right?)
  •    People belonging to the same caste/religion/region have higher chances of getting married. (Similar economic and social backgrounds = similar food habits, cultures and traditions. Think Darwin and how divergence/convergence occur.)
  •    Symmetrical features: people who suit each other in terms of body weight and height tend to get attracted to each other.
  •    Sexual imprinting: many children are attracted to people who resemble their opposite-sex parents. (This means the spouse might share similar genetic features and hence the physical similarity.)

This last point… Sexual imprinting? I bet you are wondering about how true this is. Even I don’t think I would be attracted to a man like my dad. (*awkward laughter trailing)

 Sexual Imprinting

Theconversation.com has a rather thorough elaboration on this:

        Positive sexual imprinting
We tend to look like our parents, so how do we know that we aren’t just picking partners who resemble ourselves? One such study of adopted women found that they tended to choose husbands who looked like their adoptive fathers.

We also know that, in general, heterosexuals are more attracted to those who resemble their opposite-sex parent than their same-sex parent. What’s more, research has shown that it’s not merely appearance that matters: it’s also about your relationship with that parent. People who report more positive childhood relationships with a parent are more likely to be attracted to partners who resemble that parent.

        Negative sexual imprinting
This isn’t Freud’s Oedipus complex revisited. Freud believed that children have a suppressed desire for their parents. But this branch of research doesn’t in any way show that; we simply tend to be attracted to people who resemble them to some extent.

If anything, we seem to find our immediate family members unattractive. For instance, people find the very idea of sexual relationships with their siblings deeply unappealing. This aversion seems to develop automatically through two distinct processes.

One process turns off attraction to those that we spend a lot of time with during childhood. The other turns off attraction to any infants that our mother looks after a lot. Sexual aversion to siblings might be nature’s way of ensuring we don’t try to reproduce with someone who is too closely related to us and reproduction with close relatives is linked to an increased likelihood of genetic disorders in any resulting offspring. However, genetic sexual attraction can occur between siblings that have been separated and meet first as adults.

Some Final Words

Do not become obsessed with the physical appearance of your S.O. after you have read this article though. Despite what research says, if your partner does not resemble your parent or you it does not mean you two won’t last. This concept of resemblance is not always the (innate) priority and is merely an external feature of familiarity. Personality, values and sometimes certain features define your suitability.

John Gottman’s seven principles for a healthy relationship is a good guide to read. You can find out more in the Wikipedia link here. Understanding what is important to each other and helping each other grow your potential as an individual is more of a success determinant than finding someone who resembles you in a relationship.

Sources and reads for you:
  1. indiatimes.com
  2. theconversation.com
  3. sheknows.com
Hui Ling Chang I eat honey for breakfast, thrive on funny people, and write poems to stay sane.


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