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Science Reveals Why Your Parents Hate Your Boyfriends

Update Date: Sep 18, 2013 08:40 PM EDT
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How come parents never seem to think anyone is good enough for their children? While its common for parents to influence mate choice, parents often disagree with their children about what makes a good partner.

Scientists have recently come up with an evolutionary explanation for why some parents like to take the reins in determining partners their children end up with.

A new study reveals that this conflict over mate choice may be rooted in an evolutionary conflict over resources.

Researchers at the University of Bristol and University of Groningen wanted to understand how the mate preferences of parents and children co-evolve.

The study revealed that parental resources might be partly responsible for the conflict over mate choice. Researchers explain that parents tend to give more resources to children whose partners provide less support.

A computer model that simulate the evolution of parental behavior when daughters are searing for partners reveals found parents should prefer a son-in-law who is more caring and supportive than their daughter would otherwise choose.

 "The conflict over parental resources is central to understanding why parents and children disagree in mate choice," study author Dr. Tim Fawcett, a research fellow in Bristol's School of Biological Sciences, said in a news release.

According to the model, parents' mate preferences should coincide exactly when parents distribute resources equally among their children. However, a conflict arises when parents contribute more to children whose partners invest less.

"Parents are equally related to all of their children, whereas children value themselves more than their siblings - so each child wants to get more than their fair share of parental resources," Fawcett explained. Researchers explain that this may also mean that children are willing to settle for a mate who is less caring than their parents would ideally life.

If the theory is correct, it may help explain patterns of variation across cultures.

"Our model predicts that the conflict will be stronger when fathers rather than mothers control resources, but this remains to be tested," lead author Piet van den Berg said in a news release.

Researchers said the next step is to investigate preferences for different aspects of quality.

"Surveys show that children tend to place more importance on physical attractiveness, smell and sense of humor, whereas parents care more about social class and family background," van den Berg explained. "We don't yet understand the reason for this difference, but it probably has something to do with our evolutionary history."

The findings are published in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior.

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