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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 12:18 GMT
Study unveils 'opposite' attraction
Pictures of study experiment supplied by Perception Laboratory
The experiment was conducted at St Andrews University
People are highly attracted to images of themselves which have been distorted to make them look more like the opposite sex, a new study has discovered.

A psychological experiment in the Perception Laboratory at the University of St Andrews in Scotland asked 30 student volunteers how attractive they found a range of pictures.

They were not aware that the photos were images of themselves in which the gender had been altered.

The volunteers did not recognise the images as feminised or masculinised versions of themselves, New Scientist magazine reported.

It seems the older your parents when you're growing up, the more likely you are to prefer older partners later in life.

New Scientist report
Psychologists said it was likely they were attracted to the images because they reminded them of their mother or father.

Psychologist David Perrett, who led the experiment, said he did not believe the students were narcissistic.

The research lent weight to Freud's idea that people learn what to look for in a partner by gazing into the faces of their parents at an impressionable age.

A second study by the team provided more evidence of a parental link.

Students whose parents were older than 30 when they were born were significantly more attracted than their colleagues to older faces.

Harmful genetic traits

"It seems the older your parents when you're growing up, the more likely you are to prefer older partners later in life," said the report.

The big mystery is why being attracted to people who look like your parents should make sense from an evolutionary point of view.

Inbreeding is generally considered a bad thing since it traps harmful genetic traits in a population's gene pool.

But some experts now believe this may not be the whole story.

Choosing a mate

A certain level of inbreeding could be beneficial, it is thought, since it can help preserve combinations of genes that are well adapted to a particular environment.

Bill Amos, from Cambridge University, points out that humans may be cushioned against the adverse effects of inbreeding.

"In our exponentially expanding global population, the effects of inbreeding are minimised," he told New Scientist.

"The desire for someone who looks like your father becomes a good strategy because if you have reached the stage of choosing a mate, your father was obviously good at producing young."

Aileen Clarke reports
"We give our hearts to those who remind us of our parents."
See also:

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