The family effect – how our parents affect our choice of romantic partners

Carmen Lefevre, Tamsin Saxton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Our choice of long-term romantic partner has longstanding and extensive consequences. Here we present research assessing how individual differences in partner choice arise from familial background. A sample of over 80 women aged 18-25 completed a battery of tests of their preferences for facial traits of potential partners. Facial traits were chosen as these have been robustly demonstrated to index a number of aspects of reproductive behavior and suitability as a partner. The preference tests provided multiple indices of a) the women’s preferences for biological ‘quality’, and b) the women’s preferences for parental resemblance. The women were also asked to imagine starting a family and indicate how much parental investment they would expect to receive. The women’s parents completed the same bank of preference tests, and supplied photographs of their faces for comparison with their daughters’ preferences. Both the women and their parents adapted their partner choice to maximize fitness benefits for their offspring. Women biased their preferences towards men whose appearance indicated greater genetic quality and lower family investment if their parents were expected to contribute more financially. The parents adjusted their judgment of potential partners for their daughter according to her level of attractiveness. We also discuss a number of links between women’s preferences for various facial characteristics, and the preferences and appearance of those women’s parents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)494
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Early online date20 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


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