Is "your type" hard-wired in youth?
April 4, 2007 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Is the type of person you're attracted to or consider attractive hard-wired in you during childhood?

I remember reading an article several years ago about how people's types are hardwired in them by the age of six. Have warm, fuzzy interactions with a red-haired, shy boy in the sandbox, you'll grow up with a thing for red-haired shy boys. I can't find the article or even a book explaining more about this.

I genuflect before the awe-inspiring and awesome AskMeFi :)

posted by whitneykitty to Human Relations (42 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

Not for me it hasn't! My type has definitely changed over the years! Interesting question though.
posted by infinityjinx at 10:36 AM on April 4, 2007

Me either. Otherwise, my husband would look exactly like Shaun Cassidy.
posted by pinky at 10:41 AM on April 4, 2007

posted by OmieWise at 10:46 AM on April 4, 2007

I'd also have to chime in with a no as well.
posted by chunking express at 10:47 AM on April 4, 2007

Ah, the old nature vs nurture debate.

There's a lot of evidence that people are biologically hard-wired to seek out partners that smell different to they do. The more different the person, the wider range of immune response to work with. Or some such.

And there's evidence that people are extremely attracted to people who smell exactly the same.

And evidence to say people are attracted to others who smell Slightly similar, or like their fathers.

So, ermmmm, yes. But whatever it is, it's hard wired. Hope that helps.
posted by seanyboy at 10:49 AM on April 4, 2007

I'm prone to dark and dramatic, but every once in a while there's a blonde girl who gets it done. Or a redhead. Or auburn. Or high cheekbones and a shaved head and who cares what color their hair is. And that's just caucasian girls... WHY THERE'S A WHOLE WORLD OF TYPES OUT THERE THAT DO IT FOR ME (and some not yet discovered, I'm sure).

My point is, I just like women.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:53 AM on April 4, 2007

It's easy (and trendy) to slap Freud around on a lot of psychological issues, but I find great value in his concept of Repetition Compulsion as an explanation for much of our adult behavior. (As a sidebar: I think it's also a valuable tool for explaining "dramatic theory"; why we are attracted to the certain story patterns, for example). I do think we tend to collect and retain unresolved problems(*) from early life and spend the much of our adult life repeatedly revisiting them in different guises. I also believe that since most problems arise in the sexual arena that they are very likely to affect our choice of mate.

Your mileage, etc ...

(*)Freudians would call it "trauma", but I think that carries a heavier connotation than Freud intended. I don't believe they need to be life-shattering events -- just pent-up frustration that gnaws at us.
posted by RavinDave at 10:59 AM on April 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

(Sure, we all have some things we're compelled to repeat. But I don't think it's necessarily a partner's appearance. There's lots of other ways we can revisit those old "unresolved problems" — well-phrased, RD — than by screwing someone who looks similar, lord knows.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:12 AM on April 4, 2007

thank god, no.
posted by sdn at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2007

I'm in the "no" category as well. While I've always been attracted to women, the types of women have changed over the years.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:39 AM on April 4, 2007

YES! I was enamored of many of my summer camp counselors, back when I was a baby dyke. As I got older, the women who attracted me most were the same type: short-haired, wholesome, athletic, nurturing--and lesbian.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:53 AM on April 4, 2007

I do know that through self suggestion that I like a certain type of women, I've made myself fall in love with the first women I met who met that mould. Just sayin that attraction is maybe not that mysterious.
posted by markovich at 11:55 AM on April 4, 2007

No for me.

I used to think that I had a certain "type" but time has exposed that as a lie. To date only the triumvirate of personality/intellect/character has withstood the test of time. All other criteria have turned out to be less important than I had thought.

I am serious. Upon first meeting a particular woman I thought to myself "Hmm. Not attracted to her for Reason X, Y, Z....."

...a few weeks later I found myself marveling at how attracted to her I was, and features which I'd previously found as a reason to NOT be attracted, were now thoroughly appealing.
posted by aramaic at 12:03 PM on April 4, 2007

posted by mr_roboto at 12:16 PM on April 4, 2007

I had this vision of my ideal guy when I was in elementary school: nerdy, glasses-wearing, shaggy hair cut, sandy blond hair. Thinking back, I think I just liked the Encyclopedia Britannica sales guy a little too much. Oddly enough, I am marrying someone with almost that exact image, minus the hair cut. However, anyone I dated before my fiance didn't fit that profile at all.
posted by Alison at 12:19 PM on April 4, 2007

A friend's first crush was Kermit The Frog. Her current husband looks rather different.
posted by martinrebas at 12:24 PM on April 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'll throw in a yes-ish. The first het romantic notions I ever remember having were about Christopher Reeve in "Somewhere in Time." (I was four or five when it came out.) The first gay romantic notions I ever remember having were about Nancy McKeon on "Facts of Life" (ten, twelveish?) As I've gotten older, I've come to find all kinds of people attractive and desirable, but you set a man down with dark hair and blue eyes in front of me, or a golden, athletic woman with dark wavy hair, and I'm gone. It's an instant, visceral reaction.
posted by headspace at 12:34 PM on April 4, 2007

Oh, man. Seconding Christoper Reeve in "Somewhere In Time". A gorgeous, dark haired, blue eyed, charming, romantic man who will cross the boundaries of time itself for you? I think he and John Cusack's character Lloyd Dobler from "...Say Anything" basically ruined me for anyone else.

My tastes in romantic interests have basically stayed the same throughout childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood. Creative, darkhaired, intellectual, nerdy types. It rarely varies. I'm throwing in a "yeah, maybe so".
posted by ScarletSpectrum at 12:48 PM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I seem to recall hearing a theory on some late night sex show (not a pornographic one, but one where they helped people with their sexual problems) called the "Love Map". Basically, it said that if your first boyfriend always wore a green t-shirt (for example), then you'd be more attracted to guys wearing green t-shirts that red one's in the future. This is of course a huge generalisation, but you get the idea.

Personally speaking, I can trace most of the things I look for in a partner back through my love map. But set in stone in childhood? Not buying that so much. Only when I hit puberty and started looking round at other guys and gals did I start setting my love map in place. Or at least, I can't trace anything back to earlier than that.
posted by Solomon at 1:11 PM on April 4, 2007

Given that a component of "your type" is how a person looks naked, and that most children do not see a lot of naked people, I would have to say no on this aspect.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 1:16 PM on April 4, 2007

Only in the general sense of not necessarily finding the popularly-held-to-be-dreamiest to be my personal dreamiest.

But physical type? No way. It's swung back and forth and stopped at all points between on the androgynous/feminine/masculine scale (for both genders) during childhood, adolescence, 20s, and 30s.

Not to mention that I grew up in an area that wasn't particularly racially or ethnically diverse. After I was more exposed to the additional variable of color, my brain started recalibrating to include those possibilities, too.
posted by desuetude at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2007

Given that a component of "your type" is how a person looks naked, ...

You're jumping a step. What puts them on the "might see naked" list in the first place?
posted by RavinDave at 1:22 PM on April 4, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone :) Upon googling love map, one site suggested it could be determined during childhood. From Reader's Digest of all places:

Of the many factors influencing our idea of the perfect mate, one of the most telling, according to John Money, professor emeritus of medical psychology and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, is what he calls our "love map" -- a group of messages encoded in our brains that describes our likes and dislikes. It shows our preferences in hair and eye color, in voice, smell, body build. It also records the kind of personality that appeals to us, whether it's the warm and friendly type or the strong, silent type.

In short, we fall for and pursue those people who most clearly fit our love map. And this love map is largely determined in childhood. By age eight, the pattern for our ideal mate has already begun to float around in our brains.

Thanks again : )
posted by whitneykitty at 1:44 PM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just want to point out that the "love map" thing is clearly not the same as "hard-wired". At all. The love map idea is basically a series of habits and character traits you develop over your life.

We remember and retain previous experiences and project them to various extents toward future possibilities, in love just as in every other part of life. patterns develop, as they say. But to put this down as biological or scientific as opposed to just habits we develop is nothing but a choice of lingo.

To say it becomes "encoded in our brains" is misleading, because it is not encoded in a way that can't be altered. All thoughts are "encoded" in your brain in the sense that they are materially manifest, and if you keep thinking them, they'll become stronger (like if you have a memory that you remind yourself of every day, it becomes a stronger memory). But things can change; you can change your attitude, someone can trigger something new, etc. I'm not saying there isn't some fundamental hormonal starting point (I don't know) but a lot of "type" stuff is not about that (people can be immediately turned on by things which obviously can't be explained in simple biological terms, like fishnet stockings or a nice suit).
posted by mdn at 2:14 PM on April 4, 2007

What Carol Anne said, but for men: When I was little, I had an affinity for the 1970s guys with the mustaches, the Castro Clones, the "70s porn star" look. And I still go for them, as long as they're gay!
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:30 PM on April 4, 2007

Response by poster: @ mdn, You're right :)

I love AskMeFi -- I had only a vague idea of what I was looking for (and not enough to describe it accurately) but you all led me to my answer ultimately (I found the Washington Post article! Yes!). Many thanks :)
posted by whitneykitty at 2:38 PM on April 4, 2007

When I was a wee lad I saw the UK tv series The Avengers, with Diana Rigg as super agent Emma Peel. The answer to your question is emphatically yes. Although pale redheaded women have managed to creep in as of late.
posted by tim_in_oz at 2:42 PM on April 4, 2007

And this love map is largely determined in childhood. By age eight, the pattern for our ideal mate has already begun to float around in our brains.

Readers Digest and John Money are poor sources that amplify the suck when combined. To the extent such a claim is even falsifiable, there is actually no evidence for this assertion. (and, off the top of my head, there are several lines of evidence off the top of my head that might challenge it)

The closest experiment to even suggest this that I can think of is that some scientists once squirted some lemon scent on some mommy rats' vulvas, and their little baby rats grew up and got aroused more by the lady rats with similarly lemonized lady-business.

This experiment has not been performed with humans. It also did not show what the rats "ideal" mate was, just that they preferred more lemony snickets, on average.
posted by dgaicun at 2:45 PM on April 4, 2007

-1 'off the top of my head'. . .
posted by dgaicun at 2:46 PM on April 4, 2007

I don't think warm-fuzzies before age six have a lasting impact on adult mate selection. If that were true, then it means an awful lot of guys are seeking their mothers for romantic partners. I agree with most of what has been said here -- you've got the right idea, but age six is just too early. As I've grown up, I've realized that part of becoming an adult is building up a schema for your own ideal partner through unsuccessful attempts at mating. When it doesn't work out, you pack up and move on, but not without learning something.

As for biology, the most well-known example of hormonal "typing" that goes on in romance has to do with disease immunity, and it's not even all that deterministic. The theory goes that an individual person's immune system falls under a certain type, and that we send off smell signals that encode this information. If you encounter someone of the same type, you will find them unattractive -- that is, assuming that a person's stank breath influences how attracted you are to them. The purpose of this mechanism in evolution is to encourage mixing of genes for immune systems. Pretty fun study, but I forget the names... I think they had a bunch of undergrads sniff smelly tee-shirts and panties or something.
posted by Laugh_track at 2:55 PM on April 4, 2007

ScarletSpectrum and I have the same taste in men, it seems. But I didn't know anyone in real life like that at all as a child, or not even until high school.

I have concluded that somehow my visual "love map" got coded from watching too much Remington Steele as a child. That's the only plausible explanation I can come up with for why that was in my brain from an early age.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:40 PM on April 4, 2007

Hell no. I was all about bad-boy punk types my whole life and ended up head over heels for a glasses-wearing former role-playing english lecturer who's like full on wholesome.
posted by supercrayon at 4:03 PM on April 4, 2007

Holy crap, not at all.
posted by Anonymous at 5:12 PM on April 4, 2007

I'm not going to find the references for this, but I have read some social biology research that claims that people will be more inclined to be attracted to people that are similar but not too similar to their family.

This would make sense evolutionarily, a bit of outbreeding is good, but not too much.

Of course, these findings were appropriately couched in terms to show that it was statistically significant but not really all that important.
posted by wilful at 5:40 PM on April 4, 2007

Hmm..big large Scottish men. Didn't see many of those around the playground...or around now for that matter...sigh
posted by beautifulcheese at 5:49 PM on April 4, 2007

Definitely no hard-wiring-by-six here, or I'd be dating nothing but Japanese boys. But while my range of types has certainly expanded as I've gotten older, there were definitely some early crushes that made a huge, huge impression on me that never faded. The boys-in-eyeliner fancy is probably all to blame on David Bowie in Labyrinth, and Robin of Sherwood's Michael Praed is doubtlessly at the root of my deep weakness for green-eyed, long-haired brunets.

(For that matter, an early-childhood total girlcrush upon seeing a Hindu classmate's mother in oh-so-glamourous Indian finery is probably a big, big part of why I got my nostril piercing.)
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 8:03 PM on April 4, 2007

My first crush was Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits, back when I was in the first grade. Then Peter Tork of the Monkees. I never lost my love of long hair (and a rock and roll/hippie style of dress) on men. When 80s hair metal was all the rage, I couldn't stand a lot of the music, but I loved looking at all that haystack hair.

My husband was fairly fashion-conservative when we met, but now he lets his hair cascade past his shoulders and wears an earring, all in the name of love.
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:10 PM on April 4, 2007

I have always been attracted to someone who is not quite my physical opposite: tall, slender, tanned or olive skin, and intelligent enough to keep up with me. That fits all the men I've ever been attracted to.

I'm short, red haired, with extremely pale skin. I guess I'm attracted to someone who will make up for my physical shortcomings in the climate in which I live (Australia).
posted by ysabet at 10:53 PM on April 4, 2007

If this were true I'd only be dating Ricky Schroeder look-alikes.

Personally, whenever I *think* I have a "type", the next person I get a crush on will be outside that type. For years I thought I'd never be attracted to a guy with a beard and then all the sudden I was in love with a guy who could pass for Amish. So, no.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:41 AM on April 5, 2007

I still remember the horror when I realized my "type" was light eyes, dark hair, and somewhat heavyset.

The horror coming from the fact that both my father and stepfather have light eyes, black hair, and are heavyset.

Whether that's my mother's genes or being brought up by those men is a whole nother question. I tend to think it's nurture, not nature. And there must be some other factors as well, because I also seem to have an affinity for very deep voices, which doesn't come from any father figure.
posted by timepiece at 1:06 PM on April 5, 2007

Not at all! I come from Singapore, and as a child I had no contact at all with Caucasians. Now I'm in a wonderfully loving and committed relationship with (lo and behold!) a Caucasian.

So no, definitely not :-P
posted by Mrs PuGZ at 10:48 PM on April 5, 2007

It's a damn good thing it's not true, or I'd be trying to date Wesley Crusher from Star Trek.
posted by po at 3:30 AM on April 6, 2007

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