Trustworthy but not lust-worthy: context-specific effects of facial resemblance

Lisa Marie Debruine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

208 Citations (Scopus)


If humans are sensitive to the costs and benefits of favouring kin in different circumstances, a strong prediction is that cues of relatedness will have a positive effect on prosocial feelings, but a negative effect on sexual attraction. Indeed, positive effects of facial resemblance (a potential cue of kinship) have been demonstrated in prosocial contexts. Alternatively, such effects may be owing to a general preference for familiar stimuli. Here, I show that subtly manipulated images of other-sex faces were judged as more trustworthy by the participants they were made to resemble than by control participants. In contrast, the effects of resemblance on attractiveness were significantly lower. In the context of a long-term relationship, where both prosocial regard and sexual appeal are important criteria, facial resemblance had no effect. In the context of a short-term relationship, where sexual appeal is the dominant criterion, facial resemblance decreased attractiveness. The results provide evidence against explanations implicating a general preference for familiar-looking stimuli and suggest instead that facial resemblance is a kinship cue to which humans modulate responses in a context-sensitive manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)919-922
Number of pages3
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London. B, Biological Sciences
Issue number1566
Publication statusPublished - May 2005


  • kin recognition
  • facial self-resemblance
  • trustworthiness
  • attractiveness
  • inbreeding avoidance
  • inclusive fitness
  • sexual-dimorphism
  • mere exposure
  • mate choice
  • faces
  • preferences
  • adaptation
  • perception
  • similarity
  • increases


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