Experiences during specific developmental stages influence face preferences

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Much research has documented how people’s face preferences vary, but we do not know whether there is a specific sensitive period during development when some individual differences in face preferences become established. This study investigates which specific developmental phases may be instrumental in forming individual differences in face preferences in adulthood. The study design is based on the established finding that people tend to be attracted to facial features that resemble those of their other-sex parent, particularly if they report a close childhood relationship with that parent. Accordingly, if individual differences in adult facial preferences (specifically, preferences for faces that resemble one’s parents) are formed during specific developmental stages, then only the quality of the parental relationship in those stages should predict adult preferences for facial features that resemble one’s parents. Adult participants reported the emotional support received from their parents during three different developmental phases and at the current time, and they reported the hair and eye colour of their ideal and actual partner, and their parents and selves. The study found that a woman’s retrospectively reported greater emotional support from her mother or father after menarche predicted significantly stronger preferences for partners whose eye colour was closer to that of the parent. In contrast, emotional support prior to menarche predicted greater dissimilarity between the eye colour of the parent and a woman’s preferred partner. These results indicate a possible interplay of positive and negative sexual imprinting that may arise from adaptations to promote optimal outbreeding. The study also found that parental hair colour, and in particular maternal hair colour, predicted women’s preferences for hair colour in a partner, although this may have been driven by ethnic group matching. The results of the study suggest that experiences during specific childhood and adolescent developmental periods may have longstanding effects on individual differences in human facial preferences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-28
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


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