Why Do Men's Mates Look Like Their Moms?


Research of PhD Student Urszula Marcinkowska and Academy Researcher, Docent Markus Rantala from the University of Turku sheds light to the partner selection.

​The research project was funded by Turku University Foundation and the Academy of Finland.

Research discovered that men tend to pair more often with women who resemble the men's own mothers than one might presume by chance. Nevertheless there was no perceived facial similarity between women’s partners and their fathers.

- Choosing a partner is a complicated process that is influenced by countless internal and external factors. Subconscious triggers, life experiences and different upbringing and contemporary circumstances have an effect on our overall preference, Marcinkowska explains.

In the study, 70 heterosexual adults were examined to test if their partners resembled facially their opposite sex parents. External judges assessed the facial similarity between each participant's partner and his or her parent.

The Subconscious Effects

Evolutionary psychology can provide explanations for these results. Sexual imprinting like mechanism is a subconscious process by which individuals use physical characteristics of their parent as a template for searching future mates. Sexual imprinting has been thoroughly investigated in many species of animals; however in humans the results of the studies have been ambiguous.

In previous studies, cubs were switched and taken care of parents from different species than themselves. The studies showed that, during pair formation, these adults tend to prefer the sexual partners of the species that gave them parental care, rather than partner of their own biological species.

However, mating with an individual who is too closely related to us is far from beneficial, because inbreeding causes many disadvantages for the born children. That is why people avoid mating with persons, who they have spent their early childhood with.

- Our research shows that although we avoid mating with close relatives, men seem to favour their mothers` features in their spouses regardless of what the quality of their parental relationship has been. It is possible that sexual imprinting is caused by similar mechanisms as in other animals, Marcinkowska tells.

Women are more selective

Marcinkowska explains that the differences between female and male selections can be caused by the fact that the cost of inbreeding is higher for women than for men. Minimal parental effort of females will always be higher than males. The minimal invest from women`s side is can be 9 months of pregnancy plus lactation time and bringing up the children, while men’s minimal investment can be narrowed down to a couple of minutes.

Because of the bigger investment, women are more selective when it comes to choosing a partner.

- Based on this principle difference, women need to be more careful and hence pickier when choosing mates, Marcinkowska says.

The study Sexual Imprinting on Facial Traits of Opposite-Sex Parents in Humans was published in the Evolutionary Psychology.


Created 10.12.2012 | Updated 07.06.2018