Love at First Sight

In a separate study by psychologist Lisa M. DeBruine, people trusted strangers more when photographs of the strangers’ faces were digitally altered by image manipulation software to more closely resemble their own (DeBruine, 20022005). These results supported the findings of a comparable computer-graphics study in which individual subjects had preferred members of the opposite sex with face-shapes similar to their own (Penton-Voak, Perrett, & Pierce, 1999).

Though research has suggested the faces of older couples grow to look alike because they tend to mimic each other’s expressions (Zajonc, Adelmann, Murphy, & Niedenthal, 1987), other research has shown that striking facial resemblances are evident among couples who are young as well as old, including those who are engaged and haven’t yet married (Hinsz, 1989).

Additional support, albeit unscientific, for "like attracts like" was provided by British portrait painter Suzi Malin in her popular book,Love at First Sight. Intrigued by the facial likenesses between certain celebrity couples (between, for example, Elvis and Priscilla Presley, or Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston), Malin created a series of "split-screen" portraits by photographically pairing the right half of one lover’s face with the left half of the other’s. Malin’s erotic Rorschach blots dramatically convey the astonishing visual correspondences between famous lovers based on the notable similarities between their facial proportions and/or features. However, as the lives of such celebrity couples sadly demonstrate, facial resemblances may be responsible for mutual attraction in the beginning (through a process unromantically called  physiognomic homogamy), but in the long run they may not be sufficiently strong to hold a relationship together.

Why Fido Looks Like Fred


Next door to Malin’s portrait gallery hangs a very different set of photographs collected by California-based sociologist Gini Graham Scott: over fifty photos, not of look-alike celebrity couples but of look-alike dogs and their owners. Scott’s pictures appear in her book, Do You Look Like Your Dog?, and can be seen on her amusing website Do You Look Like Your Dog?.

Of course, one swallow (or, in this case, one St. Bernard) does not a summer make. The impressive similarities we see in such pictures, far from being persuasive evidence that people regularly buy pets that resemble them, may simply be anomalies that, in and of themselves, don’t prove a thing, however funny or fascinating the correlations might appear.

However, empirical studies have corroborated Scott’s observations of pet and pet-owner similarity (Coren, 1999Roy & Christenfeld, 20042005). Their findings were further confirmed by a similar research project conducted by Payne and Jaffe (2005). While attending the National Canine Exposition in Caracas, Venezuela, they took pictures of purebred dogs and their owners. To eliminate any potential clues as to what dogs went with what owners, Payne and Jaffe (2005) used a special photographic process that retained each face but eliminated any tell-tale background.

Additionally, the researchers adjusted the images of pets and owners so all faces would be comparably sized. Having done that, they then picked 36 canine faces and 36 human faces and arranged the photos into six groups, each group containing six dogs and six owners. Finally, judges were asked to pair up the right dogs with the right owners in each set. As in the other studies, the judges paired up owners and dogs more successfully than mere chance would allow (Payne & Jaffe, 2005Roy & Christenfeld, 2004). While mere chance would have resulted in about one right pick out of six, the judges averaged two, three, or even four correct picks out of six each time.

Thanks to these careful experiments with pets we now know that Scott’s perception that dogs and owners tend to look alike is supported by rigorous scientific research. But why do people buy dogs that resemble them? And why do human couples tend to resemble each other as well?

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