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mattbrowne's avatar

Do our genes have a major influence on who we fall in love with?

Asked by mattbrowne (31458 points ) March 24th, 2009

It could be genetic or the environment and our conditioning. It could be free will or the flood of chemicals in our brain at a particular time. Or is it pure luck, fortunate circumstances? What do you think?

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26 Answers

elchoopanebre's avatar

I thin it’s a combination of all said things.

You need to be chemically and physically attracted.

It also is pure luck; I think many people have several other people out there they could be paired with if given the right circumstances.

And of course, there is free will involved. No one’s going to MAKE you love them.

mattbrowne's avatar

@elchoopanebre – I also believe in a combination. Would identical twins fall in love with similar people?

dynamicduo's avatar

I generally fall in love with people I take an effort to become close with and choose to pursue romantially. And that is a concious choice made by my part. I have certainly been in lust with men who I could pursue, however I consciously chose not to do so.

I have also been in love with radically different people, thought-wise, physically and sexually. This seems to heavily contradict the theory that genes play a significant or major influence in who I have fallen in love with.

I think, in the end, love ends up being a big mishmash of everything. Our upbringing plays a role in who we find attractive, as does our life experience. But our bodies also have a desire to partner up and propagate, and some people may choose to let their bodies dictate more than overriding it with their minds.

Twin studies are very interesting things in all of science. I have seen many cases where identical twins separated at birth end up having very similar lives, pursuing a similar career, etc. One case even had the wifes having the same name and looking alike! So yes, I do believe there is some inkling of subconscious direction towards who we deem as a suitable or desirable partner. But I think it depends person to person, whether that person is the kind who lets their heart or their brain lead them, or what level of the two they choose to have.

mattbrowne's avatar

@dynamicduo – Great comment, thanks for sharing this!

marinelife's avatar

I do not think it is genes precisely. I do think our dinosaur brains play a big part in sexual attraction. As dynamicduo aptly points out, we can exercise some conscious control over that. I am afraid that we probably are more subject to biological imperatives than we would like though. Here is one interesting study. Excerpt:

”“As unromantic and pragmatic as it may seem, nature’s programming of our brains to select out and respond to stimuli as sexually compelling or repelling simply makes good reproductive sense”(1) . Recent studies have indicated that certain physical characteristics stimulate a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which is followed by sensations such as elevated heart rate, perspiration, and a general feeling of sexual arousal. So what visual queues instigate these feelings of sexual arousal in men? How does it differ from what women find attractive? “A preference for youth, however, is merely the most obviously of men’s preferences linked to a woman’s reproductive capacity”(2). The younger the female the better the capacity for reproduction, hence attributes that males find attractive and contingent on signs of youthfulness. “Our ancestors had access to two types of observable evidence of a woman’s health and youth: features of physical appearance, such as full lips, clear skin, smooth skin, clear eyes, lustrous hair, and good muscle tone, and features of behavior, such as a bouncy, youthful gait, and animated facial expressions”(2) . Cross-cultural studies have found that men, despite coming from different countries find similar traits attractive in females. Men’s preferences are biologically and evolutionarily hardwired to find signs of youth and health attractive in women in order to determine which females are best suited to carry on their gene, and legacy. Healthier and more youthful women are more likely to reproduce, and be able to take care of the children after birth, hence ensuring a perpetuation of the male’s gene.

Scientist’s have also been establishing that scent plays an important role in deeming females attractive. At certain points during their menstrual cycle women produce more or less estrogen accordingly. During certain times thought the menstrual cycle their sent can be more or less appealing to males. “A research team reports in the Aug. 30 NEURON that the brains of men and women respond differently to two putative pheromones, compounds related to the hormones testosterone and estrogen. When smelled, an estrogen like compound triggers blood flow to the hypothalamus in men’s brains but not women’s, reports Ivanka Savic of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm”(3) .

Men are not the only ones subject to biological predispositions in deeming attraction. “Women are judicious, prudent, and discerning about the men they consent to mate with because they have so many valuable reproductive resources to offer”(2) . Men produce sperm by the thousands, yet women produce about 400 eggs in their lifetime, and the trials of pregnancy and child rearing are long and arduous, hence their preferences and what they find sexually attractive in a male are based more on security and longevity of relationships. Athletic prowess is an important attribute to most women that hearkens back to the beginning of man. An athletic and well-muscled male is more likely to be a good hunter hence provide for a family. Large and athletic male can also provide physical protection from other males.”

GAMBIT's avatar

Perhaps it has to do with some type of chemistry that leads to an attraction but what keeps a relationship together is hard work and dedication.

patg7590's avatar

personally, I find levi’s attractive

wundayatta's avatar

Genes certainly play a role in our selection of mates. It is a very imprecise role. As others have pointed out, it affects hormones and pheromones, and the physical elements of attraction.

I also believe that genes play a role in the development of our thoughts concerning who we love. Chemicals can change our thoughts, I believe. I’ve experienced it. I’ve gone from thinking suicide would be a really good thin, and that I am worthless to anyone on the planet, to an abhorence of suicide and a recognition that I do things that other people value. All because of a change in the chemicals in my brain.

It quite literally changed the thoughts I thought or think. At least, that’s how I experienced it. Experience being subjective, and inaccessible by anyone else, is suspect, since it can’t be reproduced.

Genes and epigenes have everything to do with the chemicals running around in our bodies, so, if my experience is anything to go on, they certainly can create specific thoughts. If they can do that, then they probably affect our thoughts about love too.

Now, to what degree do they impact our thoughts? Does it reach the level of “major?” Well, since anything above 10% in r-squared is considered a hugely major influence, I’d say genes overshoot that level of influence between two to three times.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Marina – Hmm… the dinosaur part of our brain (like the brain stem) is a product of our genes. And our genes also create the limbic system.

marinelife's avatar

@mattbrowne Good point. I just meant that I did not think attraction was hard wired into our DNA itself. The dinosaur brain also stores ealry childhood experiences and preferences.

Amoebic's avatar

I think the experience of love is learned. Environmental. Identical twins may find the same type of people attractive if they’ve been reared in the same environment with a consistent emphasis on values and learned world experience. If they’ve been raised by the same people, and consciously strive for creating identical experiences for themselves.

There are some hard-wired reasons for why we choose lovers, but I think it’s largely influenced by personality. Which, even for twins, is a solitary experience. Depending on the personality of the twin, they may choose similarly to their twin, or they may intentionally deviate to establish their own ideas of attractiveness in mates.
I do not always understand what my twin sister finds attractive in some people.

dearest_prudence's avatar

I believe it has something to do w/the biological processes

Zen's avatar

This is still so new to me. Where do we see who’s online right now and how do we interact?

wundayatta's avatar

@Zen: You can’t know who is online at the moment. This is based on asynchronous communication. Sometimes answers come fast from a person you direct them at, and sometimes they take forever. It’s more like email than chat, except everyone can see all the emails to everyone else.

PS, usually off topic comments are whispered.

Zen's avatar

Thanks.

mattbrowne's avatar

@zen – Great to see you here!

Zen's avatar

@mattbrowne You too, buddy. It wouldn’t be the same for me without you here. Really.

I’d add a clip of a song here or photo – but all we have here are words. And words, don’t come easy… la la la

dearest_prudence's avatar

@Zen you can post a link

Zen's avatar

@dearest_prudence Cool. But it still isn’t the same. But that’s ok. But but but. Now I sound like a clanky old ship’s motor conking out.

AnalGrammarNazi's avatar

I think that it’s more environment than anything else. Genetically we are programmed to search for the most suitable mate, but we rebel against that and choose a love based on other criteria. If it was strictly genetic, I think all women would be attracted to the strongest hunter-gatherer types and all men would be searching for a woman with ample hips to ensure easy childbirth. Instead, there are folks who worry about nothing more than arm candy or money.

VzzBzz's avatar

Maybe a bit. It’s said we are programmed to be attracted to the chemical smells of others who are removed from our relatives by a few degrees- read that somewhere, could have been one of your very own links too. I believe in that part.

mattbrowne's avatar

@AnalGrammarNazi – Strongest hunter-gatherer types capable of supporting a family which requires intelligence too.

VzzBzz's avatar

@mattbrowne your comment about intelligence along with being able to “bring the most meat”, that’s true- it’s a heady attractiveness. The Alpha Male only remains alpha if he can also outwit the strong but defective and/or destructive.

oratio's avatar

I think we have a unconscious mental checklist that tells me whether this is a good or a bad mate, and some of that is genetic. But, I think much of it is environmental.

I discovered that I am often attracted to women who resembles in looks and behaviour, women I admired and had around me when I grew up. And no, I am not talking about my mommy. Don’t go all Freud on me.

AnalGrammarNazi's avatar

@mattbrowne I agree. Kenny is very physically strong, very emotionally stable and has intelligence in areas I lack. We fill in each others gaps very nicely.

ratboy's avatar

Yes, often it is the jeans.

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