Experience May Shape Attraction More than Genetics

Couple holding hands outside in sunlightScientists have long speculated that attraction is based on subtle cues about fertility, reproductive fitness, or compatibility. But a new study published in Current Biology suggests that experience-based personal preference—not just genes or other influences—is the primary determining factor in judgments of attractiveness.

How Experience and Preference Affect Attraction

Previous research has demonstrated some universal preferences. For example, most people are attracted to symmetrical faces. But this and other aesthetic preferences only account for as much as 50% of total attraction.

To explore the factors behind which faces people find most attractive, researchers asked more than 35,000 volunteers to rank the attractiveness of 200 faces using an online test. Next, they asked 547 pairs of identical twins and 214 pairs of non-identical same-sex twins to complete the same survey. Identical twins share all of their genes, while non-identical twins share the same amount of genes as regular siblings. The research strategy of comparing the two has long been used to explore genetic and environmental influences.

Researchers were able to predict which faces a random participant might find attractive with another random participant’s preferences about 50% of the time. The other 50% of preferences were different based on personal experience. Even twins—both identical and non-identical—found different faces attractive. This suggests that preferences can be predicted to some extent, but environment or previous social interaction may play a more major role in attraction than genes do.

This, researchers say, points to a more personalized dimension to attractiveness. Unique experiences, such as the media a person consumes, experiences with romantic partners, and peer relationships may all influence assessments of attraction. Over time, these subtle influences can add up to big differences between people—even closely related family members.


  1. Germine, L., Russell, R., Bronstad, P. M., Biokland, G. A., Smoller, J. W., Kwok, H., . . . Wilmer, J. B. (2015). Individual preferences for faces are shaped mostly by environments, not genes. Current Biology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.08.048
  2. Handwerk, B. (2015, October 1). What’s beautiful? It depends on what your eyes have already beheld. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/whats-beautiful-it-depends-what-your-eyes-have-already-beheld-180956802/?no-ist

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • lee


    October 9th, 2015 at 8:17 AM

    I guess that this is why for example some men are always drawn toward blondes… they don’t necessarily see the individual traits, just a certain color hair and they are immediately attracted to that?

  • Geneva


    October 9th, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    It’s always pretty interesting how our past can still have so much sway over how we see things in the present.

  • Douglas


    October 12th, 2015 at 1:04 PM

    I really would hate to think that I let my former relationships influence how I thought about others, although I suppose that I have been guilty of that in the past. If it is based on former relationships, then I am in big trouble.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.