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Is appearance contagious?

Laughing wrinkles, overweight or Birkenstock sandals: Couples adapt, girlfriends look like sisters - does that have to be?


Why dogs often resemble their owners? Because man tends to choose his own, researchers say. Here's the phenomenon at a dog show in New York. © Eric Thayer / Reuters

The young woman and the dog are smiling at the camera. She has white hair and pale skin. He has the snow-white fur of a Maltese dog. His ears are as flat on the dog's head as the bob hairstyle on her face. It is a cliché with which the photographer Christoph Schwabe plays in his pictures: For the photo book Doppelpack , he has photographed more than 100 pairs of dogs and males, where humans and animals look remarkably similar. Had the look of one rubbed off on the other? And if so, who is there with whom?

Psychologists from the University of California took the trouble to investigate the phenomenon . They were able to confirm that dogs and masters are quite similar, especially if the dogs are purebreds. But they also found out that it does not matter how long the couple has been living together. Not adaptation is therefore the explanation of the researchers, but simply that the people selected dogs that resemble themselves.

The situation is different with regard to the danger of contagion from external appearances between people: it has been proved several times. Psychologist Robert Zajonc of the University of Michigan compared wedding pictures in the eighties with photos taken 25 years later by the spouses . In fact, the facial features of the couples had adjusted. Together, they had been happy and cared for, while obviously their mimic muscles similarly trained. Comparable laughter and worry wrinkles had arisen - all the more, the happier the marriage was. Zajonc concluded that we are particularly influenced by the people we particularly like and identify with. That by far not only applies to facial features,showed Nicholas Christakis a few years ago . The medical sociologist at Harvard Medical School researches how a particular social environment affects the mood, behavior and proportions of a person. He found, among other things, that those who have overweight friends, themselves have a significantly increased risk of getting fat. His explanation: In such an environment overweight is socially accepted. It does not urge a person to eat less or unpack the jogging shoes.

Even more influential in terms of appearance and much more contagious than laugh lines or the well-being belly is style. Flared pants, mustaches or cloth bags - fashion trends are extremely distinctive in their appearance and spread like viruses. The fact that some grab one for the flood trousers and another to the Armani shirt explains marketing professor Jonah Berger of the Wharton University with the so-called social signaling: "By means of certain garments, we tell our environment who we are." Often, trends come from subcultures with which we associate positives such as nature or individuality. Like with Birkenstock sandals. They have long been a hallmark of hippies and social studies teachers. Then you could see her on the feet of fashion week models in New York and those of the hipster in Berlin. In the meantime, Birkenstock imitations are even cheap at the shoe discounter.