Men prefer…Mom’s lips and chin
For long-term relationships, like often seeks like. Pretty Woman fantasies aside, husbands and wives tend to have similar socioeconomic status, education level and intelligence, and religious background.
It turns out they also tend to look alike — or at least choose mates who resemble their opposite-sex parent. As described in BLONDES, studies have found that women go for men who resemble their fathers ( unless they don’t like their dads) and men go for women with certain features of their moms. Freud called this sexual imprinting. Evolutionary psychologists call it assortative mating, meaning that people look for long-term mates with the ideal balance of genes that are like and unlike their own.
And the evidence is mounting. Another study has confirmed that people do pick partners that look significantly like their opposite-sex parent (but not the same-sex parent) when compared to the general population. Psychologist Tamas Bereczkei and his colleagues at the University of Pecs in Hungary measured fourteen facial proportions — the width, height, and length of eyes, noses, jaws, and other features — of more hundreds of couples, their partners, and parents. [*]
And here’s the interesting part: men and women home in on particular parent-resembling features. It’s not necessarily the whole face that counts.
Men pay attention to the lower half of a woman’s face. That is, a guy’s partner is likely to have his mom’s proportions of lip fullness/width, mouth width/face width, jaw length/face length, and jaw width/face width. They also go for an overall facial shape that is similar to their mother’s.
Women, meanwhile, zero in on the center of men’s faces. A gal’s partner is likely to have her dad’s proportions of mouth-brow distance/face height, distance between pupils/face width, eye width/face width, eye width/face width, distance between the inner eye corners/face width, nose length/face height, and nose width/face width.
Why is it that men go for Mom’s jaw and mouth while women go for Dad’s nose, eyes, and cheekbones? The researchers speculate that it has to do with how men and women process visual information differently. Women pay attention to center of men’s faces because those features are distinctive and stable over time. Facial hair may come and go, but eyes, noses, and cheeks stay the same. Men by default pay most attention to the lower half of the face because that region is most sensitive to sex hormones. Lip fullness, jaw size, and overall facial shape are cues of estrogen and testosterone levels.
Of course, Dad’s nose and Mom’s lips might not be considered optimally attractive. But for long-term relationships, lust is just one part of the equation. Everything in proportion…
* A kind reader brought to my attention an article reporting that Bereckzei’s study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, was recently retracted. Another scientist noticed discrepancies in the data that, for instance, found a correlation of 92.8 percent between the jaw width of a man’s mother and his mate. Bereckzei admitted that an error was made, but that the results are still very strong (a 70 percent correlation in jaw width) after he fixed the errors. It will be interesting to see if the paper is republished after the data are re-crunched.