physical attraction, what men and women find attractive

Researchers Debunk Oedipus Complex Study

March 17, 2009 02:20 PM
by Isabel Cowles
A study presented last year suggesting that heterosexual men and women are attracted to partners with similar facial characteristics to their opposite-sex parent, has been retracted amid accusations of falsified data.

Flawed Study Falls Apart

A September study indicating that men and women are attracted to partners with facial characteristics similar to their opposite-sex parent has been retracted from the journal that published it after errors in the research were discovered.

The team of researchers that produced the report were led by Tamas Bereczkei at the University of Pécs in Hungary. They evaluated 312 Hungarian adults from 52 different families: each family included a couple and both sets of parents. Researchers measured ratios of 14 different facial zones including the width of jaw and the distance between mouth and brow and concluded that women were drawn to male partners with similar facial ratios to their fathers, while men were drawn to partners whose lower facial features were similar to their mothers’.

But Markus Rantala, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Turku in Finland, thought the findings were suspicious: according to Scientific American, Rantala noticed that the statistical relationships were too strong to be plausible; for example, Bereczkei's reported data indicated that "the jaws of the mothers and the wives were practically identical."

Rantala notified the journal that originally published the article, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and a team of independent researchers was hired to investigate. They concluded that the paper had "factual errors" and inaccurate analysis. Bereczeki and his co-authors accepted the findings and the journal retracted the study.

The Hungarian researchers explained that the mistakes were the result of carelessness, but Rantala believes that Bereczeki and his team had, "fabricated data to support a Freudian view of psychology, because there is no other evidence to support it."

Upon publishing his research, Bereczkei told Live Science, “Freud may be right in that a strong emotional relationship between mother and son have a strong effect on later life."

However, as Scientific American notes, Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex (and its companion, the Electra complex) have themselves largely been discounted. The patient he allegedly cured by applying the theory, known as the Wolf Man, said years later that his treatment was entirely ineffective.

Background Information: Similar Studies Uphold Findings

Despite his flawed data, Bereczkei was not the first researcher to point to a correlation between familiar physical characteristics and attraction. Another study offers evidence that people gravitate toward partners with similar facial characteristics to their own. According to Liliana Alvarez and Klaus Jaffe at the Universidad Simón Bolivar, such resemblances often mean that people find partners who look like family members.

Related Topics: Other factors in attraction and DNA

According to research findings published by Texas A&M University, attractiveness is determined not only by physical characteristics but also by movement. Co-author of the study Kerri Johnson of New York University said, “The body’s shape, specifically the waist-to-hip ratio, has been related to gender identification and to perceived attractiveness, but part of the way we make such judgments is by determining whether the observed individual is behaving in ways consistent with our culture’s definitions of beauty and of masculinity/femininity. And part of those cultural definitions involves movement.”

A study conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm shows the first scientific link between genes and monogamy, indicating that a man with a specific gene variant is more likely to cheat than a man without the variant, and that the likelihood increases if the man has two copies of the gene.

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