Just like dad

Why are some women attracted to men who look like their fathers?

By Catherine Price

Published June 19, 2007 4:50PM (EDT)

Father's Day may have passed, but according to a new study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, its spirit may live on in your husband, boyfriend or any other male with whom you may be romantically involved.

According to the study (reported on here by the San Francisco Chronicle), women are attracted not just to guys who act like their fathers but to those who look like them, too -- that is, if their relationships with their fathers are positive ones.

A group of psychologists in England and Poland asked 49 Polish women to look through a bunch of photographs of men and pick out the ones they found the most attractive. They also asked the women about their relationships with their fathers. Turns out that the women who reported getting along well with their fathers showed a preference for men who looked like their dads, whereas women with neutral or negative relationships with their fathers didn't show a preference one way or the other.

There are still some details I'm not clear on (and unfortunately, the study itself is available only to subscribing members, so I can't check firsthand). First, 49 Polish women doesn't seem like a very big sample size -- have there been other studies done? Second, how do you judge someone's relationship with her dad? And last (and most important), what scale do you use to decide whether someone looks like someone else? I mean, I'm pretty sure that if you asked my boyfriend if he looked like my dad, he'd say no. (For the record, so would I.) But would my father report otherwise? What would a researcher say? And whose opinion is more accurate?

Assuming that the researchers are right, though, it doesn't seem like this study has too many implications beyond the level of "That's pretty interesting." As the article points out, being attracted to people who resemble your father doesn't indicate anything incestuous or weird. It's more likely just that in choosing someone who resembles your father, you're attracted to an image of familiarity and stability. (Remember, the correlation only occurred with women who reported having good relationships with their dads.)

Update: After filing the above post, I received a copy of the study (unfortunately, no link is available). It answered one of my questions: How one measures how much someone looks like another person. The researchers developed a selection of 15 photographs of different men who didn't look like one another (as judged by a 20-person panel) and masked their ears, hair and neck/shoulders. They took measurements of 15 facial proportions for both the participants' fathers and the men in the photographs (e.g. brow height/face height, or nose height/face width). Then they figured out a series of calculations for each characteristic to determine how much different faces resembled one another. Good to know.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

MORE FROM Catherine Price

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Fatherhood Love And Sex