Study demonstrates sexual attraction to those who resemble our parents, ourselves

( -- Researchers reporting in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin last week say people are drawn to others who resemble their parents or themselves. This may explain why incest taboos are found in many cultures - to counter a natural tendency.

University of Illinois psychologist, Chris Fraley, said there had been a century-long debate on whether incest taboos are psychological or cultural adaptations designed to suppress a biological urge. In the early 20th century Sigmund Freud, a psychoanalyst, proposed it was psychological, while Edward Westermarck, a , proposed it was cultural. Westermarck thought there was a critical time in childhood during which people would not find attractive people who were raising them or raised with them.

Most modern researchers think Westermarck was correct, but a new study led by Fraley suggests there may also be a psychological component in which we align ourselves with our kin, who are genetically close to us.

The research involved three experiments. In the first, volunteers were shown pictures of strangers’ faces and asked to rate them on sexual attractiveness. They were unaware that they were also being shown photographs just before the strangers’ faces, and these were flashed so quickly they could only be processed subliminally. Half the volunteers were flashed a picture of their opposite gender parent, while the remaining subjects were flashed a picture of an unrelated person.

The results of this experiment were that those who were exposed to a picture of their parent generally found the stranger's face more sexually attractive than those who were shown the photo of an unrelated person.

A second experiment used images of two faces morphed together. The control group was shown images of faces of strangers morphed together, but the other subjects were shown faces that were composites of a stranger's face and (unknowingly) up to 45% their own face. They then rated the sexual attractiveness of the morph.

In this experiment the subjects shown images containing their own face found the picture more sexually attractive.

In the final experiment the volunteers were again shown composite pictures, and half were told the composites included their own faces, while the rest were not. In fact none of the composites contained the subjects’ . They were again asked to rate their sexual attractiveness.

The results showed the subjects who believed the composites contained their own image rated it as less sexually attractive than those who did not.

Fraley said all the experiments support Freud’s argument that we are subconsciously attracted to features reminiscent of our own, and cultural aversions to incest were developed to override the “primitive drive.” So when we are aware of the relationship we are not sexually attracted, but when the awareness is bypassed we are in fact more sexually attracted to our kin.

Another explanation for the results is that our brains can simply process familiar images more easily, and Fraley said further experiments are needed to test this idea.

More information: Westermarck, Freud, and the Incest Taboo: Does Familial Resemblance Activate Sexual Attraction? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Published online before print July 20, 2010, doi:10.1177/0146167210377180

© 2010

Citation: Study demonstrates sexual attraction to those who resemble our parents, ourselves (2010, July 28) retrieved 24 June 2019 from
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Jul 28, 2010
Of course there would need to be known, here, if there was any effort to understand the aspect of sexual and basic attarction being conflated by the physiology and pychology of the people being tested. This is a standard aspect of the species. Not the idea of incest but the idea of the body itself conflating the two as they are so closely related.

If the article snippet here was deep enough to cover that, then I might have a bit more trust in the seeming (meaning: feels emotionally correct) basic logic at play here.

Point is, that mankind always conflates at the base level, and does so mostly at the unconscious separation of these aspects is tricky - at best.

Jul 28, 2010
Nice when science smashes cultural dogma. It should be noted that the royals have always inbred while discouraging it in the populace. Maybe they know something we don't.

Jul 28, 2010
We find ourself 'ugly' and feel attracted to faces that we used to see a lot.
Notting new.

Jul 28, 2010
Hrm... so, if I see 55% of the face of someone of the opposite gender, and 45% my own face (same gender)... doesn't that just prove the innate attractiveness of androgyny, rather than the idea that I'm attracted to my own face? It seems like we just had some research that indicated an increase in attractiveness through genetic DISSIMILARITY: http://www.physor...24.html. And there was an article about mixed-race people, with greater genetic variety, being perceived as more attractive: http://www.physor...74.html. None of these studies are particularly groundbreaking, and yet they are constantly in contradiction. This topic seems far from settled. I wonder if where the study is done has an influence? In Illinois, people prefer those who are similar to themselves, while in Brazil people prefer those who are different... plausible, or ridiculous?

Jul 28, 2010
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Jul 29, 2010
Insecure students who are firewalled from the big scary real world are very grateful to their parents who are paying for their college education. All the big decisions in life await them (career, marriage etc etc) and they are going to rely on their parents for help and support. This is the most probable cause of student's bias ie they associate security and support with their parent's image and unwittingly seek it in potential mates.

Other studies find that people do not marry those who resemble their parents at rates above the time they marry they have usually grown out of their adolescence and matured to full adulthood. And let's not forget the many people who marry those from entirely different ethnic and cultural backgrounds...

Jul 29, 2010
I have been ridiculed as a (white guy -mid color Greek) with a preferrence towards people like myself and not unlike myself. I was called racist for it. I even had an entire group of coworkers call me racist against hispanics (dark hispanics) while the idiots did not know my spouse was a(lighter hispanic) closer to my shade of color but none the less hispanic. I am sick and tired of all the white racist crap and this is a nice repreve allowing someone to like what they are and not have to feel guilty about it. Funny how a "white" who like his color is a racist and any other color who like thier color and marry their own color are not racist. I hope this marks the end of that illogic.

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