Illustration by Sidra Dahhan

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: The Science Behind Why We Morph into Our Loved Ones

Ever been told you and your bestie look like the same person? Or have you ever subconsciously said a family member’s favorite catch phrase and done a double take? Do you sometimes wonder why these strange events happen?

Apr 17, 2023

Nobody likes being lonely; not one person in their right mind, when asked what their favorite emotion is, would say loneliness. We are social animals, this we have heard reinforced time and again. The need for social connection is woven into our biological needs.
Think of all the loved ones in your lives right now; I am sure there are many: your friends, family, colleagues, partner(s), even random acquaintances you’re fond of. What ties you to them? Because there’s always something, even if we do not see it immediately, intuitively, we always find something in common. That is just the natural way we form a connection, and all that connection does is solidify the relationship and lay the groundwork for even more! And of course, this is more true for people especially close to you, your tightest circle of loved ones; you would more often hear that you’re just like your best friend than someone you ‘networked’ with.
So why does this happen?
I’m going to come right out and say the most obvious thing — you think you’ve grown similar to them, but in fact, you were alike from the start.
Hear me out — if you like someone, you are probably already similar to them. Here, I am talking about actual similarity and not perceived similarity. This is about genuine connection, not swearing you are actually in love with the exact same niche band as your crush just to feel like you may have a chance with them (stop doing that, you are embarrassing yourself).
According to a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, actual similarity leads to us liking people because they validate us by liking what we like, therefore we evaluate them positively because we evaluate ourselves positively and they are just like us. Then we assume that, just as we like them because they are similar to us, they would also surely like us. It is simply fun to hang out with someone with common interests and attitudes (anyone who’s seen an interaction between anime fans would know). We want to expand our knowledge and experiences by hanging out with similar people (in psychology, we call this the self-expansion theory, and yes, we would definitely expand our repertoire of experiences much more by hanging out with people dissimilar to us instead, but hey, humans are the smartest about anything by far, no?). In fact, this theory of already choosing like-minded people is so popular that Bahns and Crandall’s study claims that people in fact do not change to become similar to people they like, they have just always been similar — whether familial, romantic, or friendly.
Not only are we wired to like people with similar interests, attitudes, and backgrounds to ours, there are multiple benefits of being with people similar to you. We love being comfortable, our brains are by default always on an energy-conservation, least expenditure — most benefit, cozy in your comfort zone mode, so it makes sense that we apply this approach to our relationships as well. And yet another plus, if we pick someone who’s already similar to us at the offset of our relationship, it will be even easier to become even more similar to them as the relationship progresses! This could happen through spending time together — you pick up the same way of sitting or speaking or eating, you pick up words from their language and intonation , you pick up their phone in case they forget it and they pick up yours. Time is directly proportional to similarity, which is directly proportional to how much we like the person, which in turn influences how much time we spend with them, and the cycle goes right up till we die alone.
It is not without reason that married couples that are similar to each other fight less and divorce less. There, I just saved everyone the couples therapy money.
Now, you are probably thinking, okay, it makes sense to be similar to the person you love in habits and things you like and the way you walk or talk, but how can we look the same? Am I about to claim that in fact our muscles are so attracted to each other they decide to morph and reform themselves into similarity? No, while that would be a very disturbing and hilarious phenomenon, it is not what happens.
If you are worried about, and slightly disturbed by, being told that you look biologically related to your partner, imagine the nights of sleep Olivia Brunner would have lost over the fact that her complexion, hair color, facial expression all uncannily matched to her boyfriend and she was adopted. People have been interested in married couples that look more and more alike the more anniversaries they spend together for a long long time. I am going to cite a study from the dinosaur age of the 1980s which concluded that shared emotional experiences for so long give them both similar expressions and aligned wrinkles, such that they resemble each other. If this seems far-fetched, let me tell you it is much tamer than newer theories. Modern research has certainly made the concept of look-alike couples more digestible by giving it a more attractive name — ‘romantic doppelgängers’.
It is really no surprise that even physical similarity, too, can be explained using the genetic and behavioral theory of attraction. One, we are all narcissists, and we are not subtle about it. A 2013 study showed people pictures of their partners but slightly altered them to add some of the person’s own features on their partner’s face, and voila, suddenly their partner was so much more attractive! Two, we do not realize it, but because our parents are the first model of people we like, we are also subliminally attracted to our parents’ features in our partners, therefore seeking people that look like them, and therefore us (long live Dr. Sigmund Freud). It’s the research talking, not me. Third, our genes seek genes similar to ours. Although to be fair, this one also kind of makes sense because we are socially primed to marry someone from our culture or race or community, so it makes sense that we subconsciously match our genomes along with our Tinder profiles. Genetically similar people also have social and environmental common ground, so they are in the same pool and are likely to choose each other. Even at NYUAD, we pretend we do not but everyone initially only hangs out with people from their country or region because we share genes and since they are just like us, we like and feel comfortable around them.
So, it might just be this, we are already pretty damn similar to our friends, partners, and family. The more time we spend with them, the stronger the bond, the more people ask us if in fact, we are the same person. Having said that, being similar to someone does not guarantee a successful relationship: attraction and human relationships are one of the most complicated fields of psychology. Plus, relationships take work. If we could just immediately click for life with everyone we shared attitudes, background, or genes with, my future career as a therapist would go extinct. Here is our take-home message: psychologist Chris Cheers seeks for us to redefine love as something we do rather than something we find. It is intentional, it means working towards our relationships, working on ourselves, working away from petty conflicts. And somewhere between all this, your values, personalities, and essences align just a little bit more, to foster a sense of connection, belonging and safety like no other.
Maybe it is not about finding the perfect one after all — the most similar in what they believe, what they like, where they come from, whether they dip their fries in ice cream, or any other characteristic of similarity we consciously or subconsciously search for — but about becoming better at loving the people we already have.
Tiesta Dangwal is Deputy Features Editor. Email them at
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