Concurrent parent–child relationship quality is associated with an imprinting-like effect in children's facial preferences

Jovanna Vukovic, Lynda G. Boothroyd, Elizabeth Meins, D. Michael Burt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans have been shown to display phenomena resembling sexual imprinting, whereby adults are attracted to features in potential mates which resemble their opposite sex parent. In humans this may be particularly so when the parent–child relationship is positive, but there are currently limited data elucidating the causes of these patterns. Here we investigate whether such preferences can be documented in children on the cusp of puberty, for whom prospective data exist on parent–child relationships. Sixty 9-year-olds and their parents were recruited from a British longitudinal sample who have been studied since infancy. Parents were photographed, and children were then presented with stimuli in which a computer generated face was manipulated to appear more or less like the parent. Children also reported on their current relationship with each parent. Although attachment at 15 months did not predict imprinting at 9 years of age, children reporting a more accepting current relationship with their parents preferred parental features significantly more than those who reported a more rejecting relationship with their parents. These data support the suggestion that imprinting-like phenomena in humans may arise through associative learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-336
Number of pages6
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number4
Early online date13 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

© The Authors 2015. This content is made available by the publisher under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC Licence.


  • Imprinting
  • Facial attraction
  • Homogamy
  • Kin recognition
  • Attachment

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