Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Do people choose spouses who are like their parents?

New from the Journal of Research in Personality:
Both psychoanalytic views of attachment and evolutionary theories of imprinting suggest that mates may be preferentially chosen to resemble one’s parents. Using data from a large Dutch study of twins and their families, we tested these hypotheses with regard to personality traits from the Five-Factor Model. Little evidence of parent/spouse similarity was found, although women did tend to select a husband who resembled their parents with regard to Openness to Experience. This effect may be due to the influence of Openness on their social worlds, rather than to their experiences in early childhood.


  1. The usual current idea (e.g. in Geoffrey Miller's work) is that there is significant assortative mating (like mating with like) for Intelligence, but not for personality. This seems confirmed by the above study, in that the supposed personality trait Openness is positively correlated with IQ (which is one reason why Openness should not be considered a true personality trait).

  2. Even if this was the case, the explanation would be simple: assortative mating. People would seek spouses who are like themselves, spouses who would of course be like their parents.

    I need to look at this study in whole. Did they somehow control for similarities between the subjects and their parents? Otherwise this would seem to contradict some of the findings J.P. Rushton talks about.

  3. The full version of this paper can be found here.

    "Table 1 summarizes results. Clearly, there is little evidence of similarity between spouses and their parents-in-law: The median correlation is .06, and only four correlations are statistically significant. The top row of the table is most relevant to the Freudian hypothesis that the mother becomes the prototype of the son’s subsequent love objects; none of these correlations is significant. In particular, Gyuris and colleagues (2010) reported a significant correlation between wives and mothers-in-law for Conscientiousness, but that finding is not replicated here. The top two rows of the table test hypotheses about imprinting, but only one of the 10 correlations is significant, so imprinting on opposite-sex parents’ personality traits does not appear to be a general explanation for mate selection."


    "The present data shed some light on the nature of adult attachment. Although many psychologists assume that romantic bonds in adults are a more-or-less direct reflection of the attachment of the infant to its caregivers (Kobak & Madsen, 2008), contemporary attachment researchers have begun to emphasize the importance of later experience with other adults and with peers. That view of attachment as an evolving style is more consistent with the data in Table 1, but it also begins to distance adult attachment from its psychoanalytic roots, where the influence of early experience is fundamental (Bornstein, Denckla, & Chung, in press). It is, of course, possible that infant attachment guides mate selection with regard to features (such as hair and eye color) other than personality traits."

  4. Anonymous3:49 AM

    In personality tests measuring "Openness" there are items like "I have a large vocabulary", so it's not surprising that Openneess is the only Big Five trait that usually shows a substantial (but still low) correlation with IQ.

  5. Anonymous9:47 AM

    Of interest to me was whether, even if there are no correlations between the actual Big 5 variables, there is a positive correlation such that people who overall score "higher" across the Big 5 tend to assortively mate with people who score "higher" (e.g. people with high Conscientiousness may not end up with others with high Conscientiousness, but they'll tend to end up with someone with high Emotional Stability or Extraversion or Agreeableness, &c.)

  6. I had studied Cattel and Eysenck in school but when I needed some personality theory for business purposes I stumbled upon Big Five theory.

    I was looking for another feature to put into an Internet dating site I was creating. My major new feature was security but I wanted more. This was just about the time time that facebook and myspace were being developed. I imagine that there were a hundred guys like me trying to create the next "killer" application.

    I sometimes like to think that if my VCs hadn't disappeared on me, I could have been the next billionaire and they would have made that movie about me. But then I wake up and realize that I wasn't anywhere near where the market was going. Most creative new ideas are like most spontaneous mutations - rapid death.

    In any case there emerged at just the wrong time another dating site that utilized personality measurement. That was the eHarmony site which featured some old guy on TV who was claimed to have developed twenty nine personality traits. He was of course a snake oil salesman but I realized that my real scientific personality matching wasn't going to win in the dating marketplace. Twenty nine beat five in the fevered musings of the horny.


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