Do daughters pay price of marital strife?

Tuesday 23 May 2006

The secrets of a parents’ relationship may be illustrated in their child’s face, particularly if they stay together despite their marital strife.

The groundbreaking research, carried out at the University of St Andrews, shows that the relationship between parents may be linked to how feminine their daughter’s face and body become, and how much weight she gains.

The new study builds on previous research suggesting that aspects of family background, such as parental separation, may be linked to how quickly daughters reach puberty.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society today (Wednesday 24 May 2006), was conducted by Dr Lynda Boothroyd as part of her University of St Andrews PhD, supervised by Professor David Perrett.

By studying the faces and family backgrounds of around 90 daughters, the study found that parental marital difficulties relate to more masculine faces, more body fat (particularly around their waists) and less curvy (more masculine) bodies. Where parents stay together despite these difficulties, daughters appeared less healthy than other girls; possibly due to long term/current stress. Girls with separated parents, however, did not show reduced facial healthiness.

The reasons for these links are as yet unknown. They may be genetic, or due to effects of stress or some other factor, however this opens up a new and interesting area of study with implications for future developmental research. Weight gain around the waist may be a standard response to the stress hormone cortisol.

Dr Boothroyd said, “Until now, most research into the children of separated parents has concentrated on behavioural outcomes (such as higher rates of behavioural problems) or on reproductive development (the earlier puberty). Other aspects of physical development have not been looked at before. These results show that we should be looking at more of the biological systems that relate to both relationship behaviours in parents, and development in children. Since these results can’t be explained by more social theories, it really strengthens the idea that there’s some kind of hormonal or other biological process going on”.

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1. Image available from Claire Grainger, University of St Andrews Press Office – caption: Average facial images of three groups of young women; left-right: those with separated parents, those with unseparated parents who rated their parents’ relationship as poor quality, and those who reported their parents’ relationship as good quality. CREDIT MUST BE GIVEN TO THE PERCEPTION LAB, UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS.

2. For more information, contact Dr Lynda Boothroyd, Department of Psychology, University of Durham from 11.30am today – telephone 0191 334 3289 or website or Professor David Perrett, Perception Lab, School of Psychology, University of St Andrews – telephone 01334 463044.

3. The actual paper is also available from the University of St Andrews Press Office.

Issued by Beattie Media – On behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information, please contact Claire Grainger, Press Officer – 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or [email protected]; Ref: press releases/separationfaces View the latest University news at

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