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We Are Attracted to People Who Look Like Us, Suggests Speed-Dating Study

A person looking at their reflection in the mirror.
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University of Queensland (UQ) researchers analyzed speed-daters to understand how we evaluate facial attractiveness. The study – published in Evolution and Human Behavior – found that individuals rated faces similar to their own as more attractive.

How do we choose a partner?

There are lots of factors that come into play when choosing a partner to form a romantic relationship with. For some people, personality is what truly counts the most. For others, physical attractiveness – how their partner appears externally – might be the deal breaker.

Why we choose “our person” has fascinated psychologists, scientists and philosophers for many years. Our romantic relationships can shape our lives, our families’ lives, society and ultimately human evolution. While we may never be able to fully understand the roots of human attraction, researchers continue to pursue this line of enquiry with fierce passion.

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An interesting – or perhaps unnerving – question that continues to resurface is whether we choose partners because they look, well, like us. You might well have come across a couple that bear a striking resemblance to one another. Cosmopolitan even published a list of “50 celebrity couples who look like they could be related” earlier this year. There’s the old joke that couples tend to look increasingly like one another as they age, though science has actually debunked this idea. But new research suggests there might be some grounds to the argument that we select our life partner because their faces resemble our own.

People with similar facial features rate each other as more kind

The research, led by Amy Zhao from UQ’s School of Psychology, studied hundreds of psychology students during short speed-dating sessions. The individuals – who were all heterosexual – were asked to interact with participants of the opposite sex for three minutes at a time. In total, 682 participants were recruited, and 2,285 speed-dating interactions took place. Almost 50% of the interactions were with individuals of the same ethnicity, while the other 50% were with individuals of different ethnicities.

“After each interaction participants rated each other on facial attractiveness, and kindness and understanding. We then analyzed their facial images to calculate facial masculinity, averageness and similarity between interaction partners,” Zhao says, adding that this is the first study which uses face-to-face interactions in this context.

“We found that participants rated partners who had geometrically average faces and faces similar to their own as more attractive,” Zhao says. “Participants also received higher facial attractiveness ratings from partners of the same ethnicity, compared to those from a different ethnicity […] interestingly, people with similar facial features rated each other as appearing more kind, regardless of ethnicity,” she adds.

The data address “major limitations” of past studies that have asked participants to rate individuals using photographs or computer generated faces, Zhao notes, emphasizing that a better understanding of how people rate attractiveness could “assist with dating and forming romantic relationships.” However, the findings are limited in terms of generalization across wider populations, given the age of the participants and the fact they were all heterosexual.

Reference: Zhao AAZ, Harrison K, Holland A, et al. Objectively measured facial traits predict in-person evaluations of facial attractiveness and prosociality in speed-dating partners. Evol Hum Behav. 2023. doi: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2023.05.001

This article is a rework of a press release issued by the University of Queensland. Material has been edited for length and content.