Are We Attracted To People Who Look Like Us?

According to researchers reporting in the July 28, 2010 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, we are attracted to people who resemble our parents or ourselves. In one study subjects were shown pictures of strangers which were preceded by a short glimpse of either their opposite-sex parent or a stranger. Subjects exposed to a short glimpse of their parent before being exposed to the target picture were more likely to assign higher ratings of attractiveness to the person in the target picture.

In a second study, a picture of the stranger was morphed together with a picture of themselves or a picture of another stranger. When subjects were asked to rate the portrayed people for attractiveness, they usually picked the people who were an amalgamation of a stranger and themselves.

The findings in these studies go against the common saying that opposites attract. As it turns out, we are much more likely to fall for someone who looks like us or our opposite-sex parent.

This may indicate that incest taboos are social constructs instituted to prevent people from following their instincts. However, there are other explanations of why we are attracted to people who look like us.

Researchers at the deCODE Genetics company in Reykjavik reporting in a 2008 issue of Science found that marriages between third or fourth cousins in Iceland tended to produce more children and grandchildren than those between completely unrelated individuals. The researchers suggest marrying third and fourth cousins is so optimal for reproduction because this degree of genetic similarity yields the best gene pool. Sibling and first-cousin couples could have inbreeding problems, whereas couples far-removed from each other could have genetic incompatibilities. Third and fourth-cousin couples are genetically compatible while having no serious inbreeding problems.

At first glance, these findings may seem to go against the so-called Westermarck effect. In a series of studies Edvard Westermarck, a Finnish Anthropologist, found that people who grow up together are disposed not to fall in love with each other after they reach sexual maturity.

The Westermarck effect, however, is completely consistent with the findings cited above. Living in close proximity is no doubt the decisive factor for desensitization in terms of sexual attraction, not degree of resemblance.

In fact, the Westermarck effect has been confirmed in the Israeli kibbutz system where people who grow up together often are not directly related to each other.

Sim Pua marriages in Taiwan also confirm Westermarck’s theory. “Sim pua” means “little daughter in-law”. A female infant is given to a family to be reared as a daughter by the family. When she grows up, she is to marry a son in the family. Sim Pua marriages have a low fertility rate, a high divorce rate, frequent adultery and lack of sexual attraction. In some cases, the son or daughter-in-law refuses to marry their destined spouse.


Dr. Berit Brogaard ("Dr. Brit") has written since 1999 for publications such as "Journal of Philosophy,", "Journal of Biological Chemistry," "Consciousness and Cognition," "Cognitive Science," and "Journal of Medicine and Philosophy". In her academic research, she specializes in rare brain conditions such as synesthesia and blindsight, brain intervention and emotional regulation. From 2007 to 2009 she was a research fellow at the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University. She has D.M.Sci. in neuroscience from the Danish National Hospital and the University of Copenhagen and a Ph.D. in philosophy from State University of New York at Buffalo.

To read more posts by Dr. Brit on sex, love and dating, check out LovesickLove