People Tend to Fall for New Partners Who Are Just Like Their Exes, Study Suggests

We fall for people with similar personalities in the search for love, according to psychologists who studied romantic "types."

People tend to think their preferences for romantic partners change over time, but this isn't backed by evidence, wrote the authors of the study published in the journal PNAS.

To find out more, researchers looked at data collected in Germany over a period of nine years. A total of 332 people involved in the German Family Panel study answered questions about aspects of their personality: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience.

The respondents were mostly Germans with no background of migration, and were 25 years old on average. Most had been with their ex for an average of three years and 10 months, and 80 percent were non-marital. 31 percent of unmarried participants cohabited with their ex. The participants also asked an ex partner and their current partner to fill out the same personality questionnaire.

The data revealed a "significant degree" of similarity in the personalities of the ex and current partners, "suggesting that there may indeed be a unique type of person each individual ends up with," the authors wrote.

However, those who scored higher for personality traits such as extroversion or being open to experiences were less likely to have similar partners.

Yoobin Park, study co-author and a PhD student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, stressed to Newsweek the findings don't confirm that people pick similar partners.

"We believe that it's a very likely possibility, but we can't rule out the possibility that the partner consistency we find reflects some environmental effects, for example," she explained.

"Put simply, rather than one person consistently 'choosing' an extroverted person, he/she may be surrounded by extroverts and thus are more likely to end up with one."

Park argued dating apps could include information about ex-partners in their algorithms, similarly to how music apps like Spotify track listening habits to predict what a listener might enjoy. But we need more research on why people end up with partners with similar personalities to be certain whether this is a good idea."

The findings could also have implications for how people manage their relationships, said Park. "In every relationship, people learn strategies for working with their partner's personality. If your new partner's personality resembles your ex partner's personality, transferring the skills you learned might be an effective way to start a new relationship."

But she warned having partners with mirroring attitudes might not necessarily be positive, and the team don't suggest this is what people should aim for.

"For example, there are studies on how individuals remarried to someone similar to the former spouse may experience more frustration when encountering a relationship challenge. That is, they may feel hopeless and anxious: 'I know how this is going to end.'

"It's really an open question at this moment how much is a minus and how much is a plus, and we are planning to follow up on relationship implications of such partner consistency," said Park.

Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist at the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, who did not work on the paper, praised the researchers for looking at people's preferences in real time rather than in retrospect. She also said assessing current and past partners, rather than relying on ex-partners to report on their personalities, made the findings more robust.

"It is another piece in a very complicated puzzle," she said. "What it tells us isn't necessarily new, I think we were aware that people tend to go for the same personality each time, but it is now backed up by robust data.

"The result that people who are extroverted or more open tend to explore greater variety in their partners is interesting but understandable as both are more comfortable with having new experiences are more open to trying new things," said Machin.

However, Machin pointed out that the pool of subjects involved in the study was quite small, with the participants relatively young and of a similar ethnicity. The researchers also only compared two relationships.

"For the results to be more robust it would be good to establish a pattern over a series of relationships for each participant," she said.

Machin suggested some people might use these findings as reason to take stock of their relationship history to see if they go for a type, "particularly if you are unhappy with how your relationships play out."

"It might be worth exploring a wider pool of personalities," she said. "That said personality is but one aspect that inputs into compatibility, there are many more physical, biological, psychological, environmental and behavioral traits that influence our dating choices.

"No factor is more powerful than any other although personality is a major psychological and behavioral player."