Mother looking for a friend

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Tamsin Saxton has received funding from the Leverhulme Trust grant no. Have you ever thought there was an uncanny family resemblance between your friend and her partner? Or wondered for a fleeting moment whether the pair walking down the road were husband and wife, or brother and sister? You might not be imagining things. Scientists have long known that species including birds, mammals and fish pick mates that look similar to their parents. This is known as positive sexual imprinting. For example, if a goat mother looks after a sheep baby, or a sheep mother looks after a goat baby, then those babies grow up to try to mate with the species of their foster motherinstead of their own.

When you ask people to judge the similarities between heterosexual couples and their parents from photos, a fascinating picture emerges. We know that such self-resemblance influences partner choice. One such study of adopted women found that they tended to choose husbands who looked like their adoptive fathers.

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We also know that, in general, heterosexuals are more attracted to those who resemble their opposite-sex parent than their same-sex parent. People who report more positive childhood relationships with a parent are more likely to be attracted to partners who resemble that parent. Freud believed that children have a suppressed desire for their parents. 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. This aversion to close relatives is known as negative sexual imprinting. However, genetic sexual attraction can occur between siblings that have been separated and meet first as adults.

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But when do we develop these preferences? Or perhaps more recent experiences override earlier learning? To test this, I asked heterosexual adult women about their relationships with their parents at different ages during their development, and I assessed how much their current preferences matched up with the appearance of their parents.

Mother looking for a friend found that the women who reported a better relationship with their parents after puberty were more likely to be attracted to partners with similar eye colour to them. In contrast, if a woman was close to her parents earlier in life, she was actually less likely to prefer the eye colour of her parents in a partner. In science, we always like to see replications with different samplesmethodologies and research groups before we generalise findings too much. So far though, the intriguing pattern of this early study suggests that there may be complex developmental patterns underlying how we construct our idea of an ideal partner.

Perhaps we are seeing the actions of both positive and negative sexual imprinting at work. But one question remains. It turns out that coupling up with a distant family member seems to be the best bet, biologically, to produce a large of healthy children.

One possibility is that if you are attracted to people who look like your parents, then chances are you may get a crush on distant relatives. This might give you better chances of more healthy children, and so this behaviour persists. Like most peopleyou probably want a partner who is kind, intelligent and attractive. But if all else is equal, then that comfortable feeling of familiarity might be enough to get a relationship underway, or to maintain feelings of trust in a relationship. Plymouth Contemporary — Plymouth, Devon.

Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. Just heard the news? Monkey Business Images. Tamsin SaxtonNorthumbria University, Newcastle. Couple or brother and sister? Psychology Evolutionary biology Attraction Parents.

Mother looking for a friend

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