Culture and Society

What do people find attractive in a partner?
Answered by Bambi Turner and Discovery Channel
  • Bambi Turner

    Bambi Turner

  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. From an evolutionary standpoint, people are attracted to mates who give them the best chances of producing healthy offspring. Recent scientific studies have shown that this often means choosing a partner with similar, but not identical, genetic material.

    Parents who share similar genetics generally produce children with the best possible combinations of genes, resulting in fewer miscarriages than among couples with dissimilar genes [source: Bhattacharya]. Marrying someone too similar, such as a sibling, can result in mutations caused by inbreeding, but an Icelandic study found that couples consisting of third or fourth cousins had more surviving grandchildren than those with either closer or more varied genetics [source: Smyth].

    This need for genes just slightly removed from our own may leave us subconsciously seeking partners who resemble mom or dad. In a 2004 Hungarian study, women rated men who resembled their fathers as more attractive than other men [source: Bhattacharya]. These results were reinforced by a 2007 Polish study, where women again rated men as more attractive when these men shared similar facial features with their fathers, particularly their noses, eyes or eyebrows [source: Henderson].

    This study also showed a strong correlation between a woman's relationship with her father and the men she found attractive. Those who reported close relationships with their dads were much more likely to rate men who shared their fathers' features as attractive. This suggests that women not only seek out certain degrees of genetic separation to increase the odds of bearing healthy children, but also recognize the need to find partners who can help them successfully raise their children. Women who reported unhappy relationships with their fathers during childhood were much less likely to pick partners who resembled their dads.

    Although many studies link male attraction to sex appeal, or waist-to-hip ratio, a 2008 study at the University of Iowa found that a man just might look for a woman who's as smart as his mother. Researchers found that a man is statistically more likely to marry a woman with the same level of education as his own mother. For example, 80 percent of men whose mothers had college degrees ended up marrying women who had college degrees [source: Riehl].

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  2. There are many factors that determine how we evaluate sexual attractiveness, but research has shown that people are generally visually attracted to partners who look similar to viewers' parents and similar to the viewers themselves. A cognitive psychologist named David Perrett performed an experiment in which he superimposed participants' features onto a photograph of a face of the opposite sex. When shown a few pictures and asked which one was most attractive, the subjects almost always picked the picture with their own features superimposed on it. We also tend to pick partners whose personalities are similar to those of people we were close to as children. The partner may be similar to a parent, friend or other childhood associate.

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