Oct 4, 2010

Why Some Longtime Couples Look Alike

             Among the raft of books, articles, jokes, rom­antic comedies, self-help guides and other writings discussing marriage, some familiar ideas often crop up. Few appear more often than the idea that many old couples look alike. You've probably seen it before - two elderly people walking hand in hand down the street or sitting at a café, resembling each other so strongly that they could be siblings.
  • Forget about opposites attracting. We like people who look like us, because they tend to have personalities similar to our own. And, a new study suggests, the longer we are with someone, the more similarities in appearance grow.
  • Researchers set out to investigate why couples often tend to resemble one another. They asked 11 male and 11 female participants to judge the age, attractiveness and personality traits of 160 real-life married couples. Photographs of husbands and wives were viewed separately, so the participants didn't know who was married to whom.

The test participants rated men and woman who were actual couples as looking alike and having similar personalities. Also, the longer the couples had been together, the greater the perceived similarities.
The researchers speculate that the sharing of experiences might affect how couples look.

A biological reason  
  • The idea that there is a connection between appearance and personality might seem odd at first, but there could be biological reasons for a link, said study member Tony Little from the University of Liverpool in England.
  • "Testosterone is linked to masculine face shapes and it also affects behavior," Little told LiveScience. "Also, the face displays our emotions and over time emotional expressions may become written in the face."
For example, someone who smiles a lot may develop lines and muscles that are suggestive of someone who is happy.
Other studies have shown that partners who are genetically similar to each other tend to have happier marriages. Similarities in personalities and physical features might be one way to gauge genetic similarity.
Smiles and eyes
  • The new study, to be detailed in the March issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences, indicates that people home in on a variety of different features when using facial appearance to make decisions about someone's personality, and that the particular cues focused on change from face to face. Vital to the decision, however, are eyes and smiles.
  • Genetic influences are also a factor. A past study showed that genetically similar people have better marriages [Source: Live Science]. Such families have fewer incidents of child abuse and a lower rate of miscarriages. People also appear to be more selfless when involved with genetically similar partners.
Smiles are important social cues that may tell us whether or not someone is friendly, and eyes are also a traditional focus of attention.
  • In another study, a researcher at the University of Western Ontario determined that when considering friends or romantic partners, a si­milar genetic profile made up about a third of the selection criteria. We may think subconsciously that people who are genetically similar work better together. Consequently, we look for physical or emotional cues that tell us that this potential friend, husband or wife is genetically similar to us. Of course, couples shouldn't be too genetically similar -- in most cultures, relationships between close relatives are taboo, and geneticists agree that diversity is important to a healthy gene pool.
Besides feeling that they work better together, why and how do people choose partners who are genetically similar? Asking for a DNA sample on the first date would be impolite. The answer may be equal parts personality -- derived in part­ from genetics and consistently ranked by people as important in a partner -- and the marriage models we have around us. In other words, many women say they want a guy like dad.

Other Criteria for Attraction

Finding out what attracts one person to another has been explored by matchmakers and psychologists alike. But science has been able to go beyond many of the classic answers, such as sense of humor, kindness, intelligence and similar values. The genetic basis of attraction may be equally important while also representing a bigger mystery.
  •    A study involving researchers from several universities showed that women prefer men who look like their fathers. Even women who were adopted seem to share the same predilection. Tamas Bereczkei, a researcher at Hungary's University of Pecs who was involved in the study, called the process- sexual imprinting. Women use their fathers as models by which they judge their prospective mates.
  • The study also found that a close father-daughter relationship more often resulted in a woman marrying someone who looked like her father. Again, the notion of imprinting arises as these fathers, by forming close emotional bonds with their daughters, seemed to provide a model of what a husband should be.
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