Is He My Type? The Science Behind Mate Preference

Research shows that people's partner "types" are shaped by their environment.

Posted Apr 02, 2019

StockSnap/Pixabay
Source: StockSnap/Pixabay

Here's a quick and fun exercise. Think of all your past romantic partners and write down their hair and eye colors. Then, write down your hair and eye color as well as your opposite-sex parent's hair and eye color. Are any patterns emerging?

This is exactly what a group of researchers from the Czech Republic asked 1,048 participants to think about in a new study published in Evolution and Human Behavior. Specifically, the scientists sought to determine whether people exhibit a stable romantic "type," and where that "type" may have its origins.

Their findings are nothing short of fascinating. They report:

  • People consistently choose partners with specific hair and eye color. This suggests that people do, in fact, have stable "types."
  • Furthermore, this pattern emerged in both short- and long-term relationships, though the association was stronger in long-term relationships.
  • The eye color of one's partner was associated with the eye color of one's opposite-sex parent. However, the association was strongest when both parents shared the same eye color.
  • One's own eye color was not predictive of their partners' eye color. 
  • Neither parents' hair color nor one's own hair color was predictive of partners' hair color.

These findings are important for a number of reasons. For one, past research has found two possible explanations for why people might have stable partner preferences, or "types." First is an imprinting-like effect. The researchers describe this as a process whereby "individuals internalize certain characteristics of their parent and later use these parent-related characteristics as a template for choosing their mates." A second process that has been shown to influence partner preference is homogamy (i.e., self-similarity). People tend to gravitate towards partners that resemble themselves — for instance, sharing the same hair or eye color.

Because parents' eye color was predictive of partner preference, while one's own eye color was not, the current research suggests that imprinting is the stronger driver of mate preference. The researchers write, "Our results thus suggest that preferences for eye color are determined by the imprinting-like effect rather than by homogamy and that they remain stable over time. These findings also indirectly support an assumption of stability of this imprinting-like effect in humans, since people consistently choose partners with their opposite-sex parent's eye-color."

Most importantly, this research may lead to some unexpected self-insight. If you're unsure of your partner type, look no further than your parents' facial features. And, if you want to understand what a potential partner's type might be, maybe it's best to set up a date with the parents.

Facebook Image Credit: Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

References

Štěrbová, Z., Tureček, P., & Kleisner, K. (2019). Consistency of mate choice in eye and hair colour: Testing possible mechanisms. Evolution and Human Behavior, 40(1), 74-81.