, Volume 134, Issue 1, pp 31–43 | Cite as

Good genes, complementary genes and human mate preferences



The past decade has witnessed a rapidly growing interest in the biological basis of human mate choice. Here we review recent studies that demonstrate preferences for traits which might reveal genetic quality to prospective mates, with potential but still largely unknown influence on offspring fitness. These include studies assessing visual, olfactory and auditory preferences for potential good-gene indicator traits, such as dominance or bilateral symmetry. Individual differences in these robust preferences mainly arise through within and between individual variation in condition and reproductive status. Another set of studies have revealed preferences for traits indicating complementary genes, focussing on discrimination of dissimilarity at genes in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). As in animal studies, we are only just beginning to understand how preferences for specific traits vary and inter-relate, how consideration of good and compatible genes can lead to substantial variability in individual mate choice decisions and how preferences expressed in one sensory modality may reflect those in another. Humans may be an ideal model species in which to explore these interesting complexities.


HLA Disassortative Heterozygosity Menstrual cycle Evolutionary psychology Sexual dimorphism Masculinity Compatibility Fluctuating asymmetry 



Major Histocompatibility Complex


Human Leukocyte Antigen


Fluctuating Asymmetry


second to fourth digit ratio


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK

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