Behavior Genetics

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 25–35 | Cite as

The Role of Genes and Environment in Degree of Partner Self-Similarity

  • James M. SherlockEmail author
  • Karin J. H. Verweij
  • Sean C. Murphy
  • Andrew C. Heath
  • Nicholas G. Martin
  • Brendan P. ZietschEmail author
Original Research


Choice of romantic partner is an enormously important component of human life, impacting almost every facet of day-to-day existence, however; the processes underlying this choice are remarkably complex and have so far been largely resistant to scientific explanation. One consistent finding is that, on average, members of romantic dyads tend to be more alike than would be expected by chance. Selecting for self-similarity is at least partially driven by phenotypic matching wherein couples share similar phenotypes, and preferences for a number of these traits are partly genetically influenced (e.g., education, height, social attitudes and religiosity). This suggests that genetically influenced preferences for self-similarity might contribute to phenotypic matching (and thus assortative mating), but it has never been studied in actual couples. In the present study, we use a large sample of twins to model sources of variation in self-similarity between partners. Biometrical modelling revealed that very little of the variation in the tendency to assortatively mate across 14 traits was due to genetic effects (7 %) or the shared environment of twins (0 %).


Assortative mating Quantitative genetics Mate choice Self-similarity Romantic preference 



This study was funded by joint grants from the National Institutes of Health (Grant Numbers: AA07535, AA07728, AA10249, AA11998, MH31392) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia, Grant Numbers: 941177 and 971232). James M. Sherlock is supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award. We also wish to thank Drew Bailey for integral input in developing a measure of the heritability of assortative mating.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

James M. Sherlock, Karin J. H. Verweij, Sean C. Murphy, Andrew C. Heath, Nicholas G. Martin, Brendan P. Zietsch declare no conflict of interests.

Ethical Approval

All research was conducted in accordance with the guidelines of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research Ethics Committee with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 5 (PDF 69 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • James M. Sherlock
    • 1
    Email author
  • Karin J. H. Verweij
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sean C. Murphy
    • 3
  • Andrew C. Heath
    • 4
  • Nicholas G. Martin
    • 5
  • Brendan P. Zietsch
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.School of PsychologyThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Biological PsychologyVU UniversityAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Melbourne School of Psychological SciencesThe University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryWashington University School of MedicineSt. LouisUSA
  5. 5.Genetic EpidemiologyQIMR Berghofer Medical Research InstituteBrisbaneAustralia

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