Men marry their mothers, and women marry their fathers — at least, that’s how the old figurative adage goes, doesn’t it?
Turns out women may also find romantic partners in men who resemble their brothers, finds a new study from Northumbria University in the U.K.
“One focus of our research is to understand more about how people pick the partners they do, and why people differ in their preferences and choice,” Dr. Tamsin Saxton, lead author of the study, told Global News in an e-mail. “Recently, we’ve been trying to unpack the influences that people’s families might have on their partner preferences. We predicted that sibling resemblance might be just one of the many contributing factors in partner choice, and the current study indicates that it may indeed have an influence.”
Saxton and her research team had participants rank the facial similarity between the male partners of 52 women, and that of the women’s brothers. The participants were not made aware that one photo had a sibling relationship or a romantic relationship to anyone.
They were also asked to do the same for 52 celebrity women who had partners, as well as a brother.
All people appearing in photos were white and heterosexual. This, Saxton says, was done on purpose.
“We wanted to try to restrict participants to one ethnic group because people often select partners within their culture,” she said. “So, if we included people from a lot of different cultures, then people might base their judgments on perceived cultural similarity. For a similar reason, we tried to control for age when we ran the study, so that people weren’t simply matching the 20-year-olds to the 20-year-olds, and the 40-year-olds with the 40-year-olds.”
For the study, participants were given a paper that was divided into two columns. The first column had the woman’s brother while the other column had four men (three of which were random decoys, and one which was the woman’s partner). Participants then had to pick which man in the second column most resembled the man in the first column.
And even though participants had a one in four chance of choosing the right partner, the raw data showed participants were picking the partner more than their odds. After taking all variables into account, the right partner was chosen about 27 per cent of the time.
Saxton acknowledges that this number is only slightly above chance, but it’s enough to identify an effect.
“So, I guess one important point is that you shouldn’t expect to be able to pick a partner simply based on the appearance of a sibling,” Saxton said. “Not all women had partners that looked like their brothers… The point though is that it [may be] pretty weird to think that our partners might bear any resemblance whatsoever to our brothers — and an everyday prediction might be that partners and brothers wouldn’t look alike at all. However, our study found that there was this subtle resemblance, on average, across the sample.”
Saxton also suggests that familiarity may play a role in attraction — for example, having similar views on topics, or like-minded interests, etc.
This isn’t the first study to look into how family may influence a person’s choice in romantic partners.
A 2015 study by the University of St. Andrews found that when it comes to attraction, people are attracted to others who have features similar to their parents, like hair and eye colour and age range their parents were when they were born.
“We found that women born to ‘old’ parents (over 30) were less impressed by youth, and more attracted to age cues in male faces than women with ‘young’ parents (under 30),” the authors wrote. “For men, preferences for female faces were influence by their mother’s age and not their father’s age, but only for long-term relationships.”
A 2001 study by the University of Pecs also concluded that men tend to choose partners who slightly resemble their mothers, while research from Wayne State University in 2004 was able to make similar conclusions regarding women and how their partners resemble their fathers.