Curiosities: Are people attracted to people who look like them?

Jan. 30, 2009

Yes, says Linda Roberts, a professor of human development and family studies at UW-Madison.

Roberts, who studies couples, says evidence supports this folk wisdom. People are generally attracted to those of similar social class, age and ethnicity. To illustrate the point in her class on couple relationships, she chooses someone in a long-term relationship and pretends to guess the characteristics of the mate, basing those guesses on the student’s own characteristics.

“I can get it right to some degree of certainty,” she says. “It’s not perfect, but birds of a feather do flock together, when it comes to the mating game.”

The like-attracts-like thesis gets support from some subtle mating choices, Roberts adds.

“People choose mates who have the same ear-lobe length or nose width. It seems to be unconscious, but we do have a propensity to choose people who look similar to ourselves.”

Men and women tend to choose partners having the same general level of attractiveness, Roberts adds. Statistically, stunners choose stunners, and middling people tend to choose from the center of the spectrum. “Obviously there are a lot of exceptions, but this is the tendency,” she says.

Finally, researchers have “proven” another bit of folk wisdom: people do look like their dogs. Or at least, experimental subjects matched dogs with their owners, based solely on portraits, better than chance would predict. Arf!