Fathers’ Day is all about honoring dads. Thus, we’ve decided to showcase research that demonstrates just how influential a good dad can be. A recent study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior looked at the types of male and female faces young adult women find more attractive as a function of their relationships with their parents.1
Using fancy computer morphing technology, the researchers presented women with opposite-sex and same-sex faces that looked more vs. less like the women themselves (i.e., self-resemblance). The women were also asked to report on the levels of emotional support they received from their moms and dads during childhood. In line with past research, the women preferred same-sex faces that looked more like themselves.
Here’s where it gets especially interesting…They also preferred opposite-sex (i.e., male) faces that looked more like themselves, but only if they perceived having received more emotional support from their dads during childhood. You heard that correctly. Women rated a guy’s face as more attractive when the guy looked more like the woman making the rating, but only when the woman had a close relationship with her dad during her youth. It should be noted that participants’ relationships with their moms did not affect preferences for self-resembling faces in male or female targets.
Whereas previous work has shown that women find male faces more attractive when the faces resemble dad,2 this is the first work to show this self-referential effect. What’s going on here? The thinking is that more supportive dads spend more time with their daughters and are liked more by their daughters, which makes dad’s features more familiar and liked. Because we all share some facial features with our parents, females’ preferences for opposite-sex faces that resemble themselves may be driven by the similarity in fathers’ and daughters’ faces (we are admittedly simplifying some complex evolutionary concepts).
We’d like to propose another explanation: having a supportive and involved father makes a young girl feel better about herself, and that self-esteem influences later preferences for self-resembling male faces down the road.
Happy Father’s Day to all you supportive dads out there!
1Watkins, C. D., DeBruine, L. M., Smith, F. G., Jones, B. C., Vukovic, J., & Fraccaro, P. (2011). Like father, like self: emotional closeness to father predicts women’s preferences for self-resemblance in opposite-sex faces. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32, 70-75.
2Little, A. C., Penton-Voak, I. S., Burt, D. M., & Perrett, D. I. (2003). Investigating an imprinting-like phenomenon in humans: Partners and opposite-sex parents have similar hair and eye colour. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, 43-51.
Dr. Tim Loving – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Loving’s research addresses the mental and physical health impact of relationship transitions (e.g., falling in love, breaking up) and the role friends and family serve as we adapt to these transitions. He is an Associate Editor of Personal Relationships and his research has been funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
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