All in the family: why we spot resemblances that don’t exist – Spitting Images – Brief Article
Monique I. Cuvelier
You and Junior may share big blue eyes and the exact same nose, but don’t interpret strangers’ exclamations as evidence of this breathtaking resemblance. They’re just as likely to coo over you and the neighbor’s kid. The slightest hint that an adult and child are related doubles instances of perceived resemblance, according to Paola Bressan, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Padua in Italy.
Bressan showed photographs of a male-female couple and a child–some related, some not–to 60 subjects. When asked to match parents with children and given no information about blood ties, subjects rarely identified matches. In fact, they were no more successful than if they randomly guessed. When told there was no relationship, just one-third of the subjects saw similarities between adult(s) and child. But when subjects were falsely informed that the pictured individuals were a family, perceived resemblance jumped 45 percent.
The possibility that people were simply being polite can be ruled out, according to Bressan. Subjects had never met the families depicted; they were simply looking at photographs.
Bressan’s study, scheduled for publication in the journal Psychological Science this May, concludes that we are hardwired to seek aesthetic similarities. People know that parents and children share genetic material and so infer that they must resemble one another, explains Bressan.
Perceived resemblance may also be rooted in the age-old issue of paternity. Evolution has taught parents, especially fathers, to deceive themselves in order to propagate the human race.
“In a society where adultery is common, babies with a readily identifiable biological father have more chance of surviving than babies who do not,” Bressan says.
Interestingly, men were more likely than women to spot similiarites when told that adults and children were related. And they ascribed more similarities to men and boys than to any other gender combination.
“In our society, men’s preoccupation with paternity might be strongest where a male heir is concerned,” speculates Bressan.
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