Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

RIP Robert Zajonc, who proved couples grow to look alike

Posted in news by jenapincott on December 8, 2008

One of the sweetest studies I describe in BLONDES involves long-married couples. The longer and happier the marriage, the more likely a couple is to resemble each other (and no, not because they looked similar as newlyweds). The Stanford University psychologist who explored this phenomenon is Robert Zajonc, who passed away last week. In Zajonc’s study, married couples look more like each other on their silver wedding anniversaries than they do as newlyweds. Why? For one, emotionally close couples tend to mimic each other’s expressions.
According to his Times obituary, Zajonc pursued many fascinating questions in his research: Does birth order affect IQ? (in short, yes, the IQ of each successive child decreases by an average of three points due to social effects); can smiling be a cause of a good mood? (yes, another topic addressed in BLONDES); and does familiarity breed attraction? (yes, but we all knew that already).
The question of whether Dr Zajonc and his wife grew to look similar over the decades isn’t straightforward. Zajonc’s first marriage ended in divorce, and he later remarried the renowned sociologist Hazel Rose Markus.


2 Responses

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  1. mindstretcher said, on December 8, 2008 at 6:54 am

    Such a nice man. I met him back in 1992 when he was still at the University of Michigan.

  2. Raphael said, on December 18, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    “does familiarity breed attraction? (yes, but we all knew that already)”

    You already knew that because Zajonc pointed it out in the ’60s!

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