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I Love You, Because You're Just Like Me
By Alison McCook
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Despite the saying that opposites attract, new research released Monday suggests that people tend to prefer someone more like themselves.
Reviewing responses from questionnaires about mate preferences from almost 1,000 heterosexual young adults, researchers found that people tend to prefer someone who resembles them on certain key traits, such as those related to social status, wealth and parenting.
Study author Dr. Peter M. Buston of the University of California in Santa Barbara told Reuters Health that choosing someone as a mate who is similar to you makes good evolutionary sense.
"Individuals choose partners who are similar to themselves on many characteristics, because that contributes to the stability of the partnership, and that, in turn, contributes to the number of children they might have in their lifetime," Buston said.
Buston conducted the research, published in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (news - web sites), while at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
During the study, Buston and his co-author Dr. Stephen T. Emlen handed out questionnaires to 978 heterosexuals between 18 and 24 living in Ithaca. Questions focused on how important people said certain traits were in potential mates, and how well they embodied those same traits themselves.
The study featured 10 attributes, all related to wealth and status, physical appearance, family commitment and sexual faithfulness.
In an interview, Buston said that researchers have often suggested that all women -- regardless of their own personalities -- tend to gravitate toward men who embody specific traits related to how well they can support a family, such as wealthy men and those with high social status. In turn, all men have been supposed to flock toward women with youth and vigor, who appear especially fertile, Buston said.
In the current study, however, Buston and Emlen found that men and women tended to prefer mates who embodied the same qualities as they did.
For example, Buston said that women who rated their own physical appearance highly tended to prefer men who were also good looking more strongly than men who had the stereotypically attractive traits of wealth and high social status.
Buston noted that people may believe opposites attract as a result of a "some very obvious, unique cases" where seemingly mismatched people form unions.
However, "when you look across the population as a whole ... it's more that likes attract," Buston said.
Keeping that principle in mind may help people who are seeking a potential mate, he added.
Many people get caught up in what they believe to be the "ideal mate," Buston said -- who is often very wealthy and attractive -- and get "locked into" thinking that is what they should look for.
However, according to these findings, the ideal mate may be different for every person, Buston noted.
"If what people are looking for is a stable, long-term partnership, then they should just be looking for someone who is similar to themselves in many things," Buston said.
SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2003;10.1073/pnas.1533220100.