Investigating an imprinting-like phenomenon in humans partners and opposite-sex parents have similar hair and eye colour

A. C. Little, I. S. Penton-Voak, D. M. Burt, D. I. Perrett

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

115 Citations (SciVal)


Research has shown that human partners are more similar than expected by chance on a variety of traits. Studies examining hair and eye colour show some evidence of positive assortment. Positive assortment may reflect attraction to self-similar characteristics but is also consistent with attraction to parental traits. Here, we examine self-reported partner hair and eye colour and the influence that own and parental colour characteristics have on these variables. Parental characteristics were found to correlate positively with actual partner characteristics for both men and women. Regression analysis predicting partner characteristics from maternal and paternal traits (which controls for own traits) revealed the greater importance of the opposite-sex parent over the same-sex parent in predicting both hair and eye colour of actual partners. The findings may reflect an influence of parental colour characteristics on human partner choice. Attraction to opposite-sex parental characteristics is seen in a wide variety of animals where it is usually attributed to imprinting processes in infancy. Although the mechanism is unclear and not necessarily confined to infancy, the data reported here are consistent with a somewhat analogous process to imprinting occurring in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-51
Number of pages9
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2003


  • Assortative mating
  • Eye colour
  • Hair colour
  • Imprinting
  • Parental influence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Development


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