The attractiveness of their daughter’s dating partner might be more important to parents than they realize

A potential partner’s physical attractiveness is more important to women than it is to their fathers, who place an increased importance of personality traits, according to new research published in Evolutionary Psychological Science.

But both fathers and their daughters expect a potential dating partner to meet a minimum level of physical attractiveness, regardless of how good his personality is.

“I became interested in this topic when I was speaking at an open house event to both prospective college students and their parents. I decided to discuss research on parent-child conflict over mate preferences,” said lead researcher Madeleine A. Fugère, a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University and the author of The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships.

“In reviewing this research, we found that nearly all of the research was based on self-report ratings of the importance of traits to parents and offspring. We also found that physical attractiveness was consistently rated as less important to parents than to offspring.”

“We reasoned, based on evolutionary theory, that physical attractiveness as an indicator of good genetic quality, might be more important to parents than they consciously realize. We decided to use an experimental methodology to manipulate both men’s physical attractiveness and their personality characteristics in order to determine their importance to both women and their fathers,” Fugère said.

In the study, 86 fathers and their daughters viewed and rated photographs of a highly attractive man, moderately attractive man, and unattractive man. The men’s physical attractiveness had previously been determined by two separate samples of women.

Each of the photographs was also paired with one of three personality trait profiles, which described various levels of desirable characteristics such as being trustworthy, intelligent, respectful, and ambitious. The attractiveness of these trait profiles had also been previously determined.

The researchers found that both women and their fathers tended to favor men with the most desirable personality traits, but only when they were highly or moderately attractive. Physically unattractive men were not rated as more desirable than highly attractive or moderately attractive men, even when they had the most attractive personality traits.

The results indicate that “the physical attractiveness of partners might be more important to both offspring and parents than they consciously realize,” Fugère told PsyPost.

“We do not always report our own preferences accurately when we try to self-report them. Our experimental evidence suggests that although both daughters and fathers believe that men’s personality characteristics are more important than their physical attractiveness, when we choose between potential partners, physical attractiveness plays a larger role than personality characteristics.”

The researchers also found that daughters and their fathers agreed about the best mate approximately 48% of the time. When they disagreed, daughters were more likely to choose the more physically attractive man while fathers were more likely to choose the man with the best personality traits.

“We have conducted previous research showing the importance of physical attractiveness to mothers when considering potential mates for daughters as well,” Fugère noted.

However, “in our research to date, we have considered only positive personality traits. We are currently working on a new project assessing whether avoiding negative personality traits or avoiding unattractiveness is more important to women and their parents.”

The study, “The Relative Importance of Physical Attractiveness and Personality Characteristics to the Mate Choices of Women and Their Fathers“, was authored by Madeleine A. Fugère, Stephanie Madden, and Alita J. Cousins.