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Dr Brendan Zietsch
  – ARC Future Fellow

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Dr Brendan Zietsch
Brendan commenced as a research fellow in the School in 2010 on a UQ Postdoctoral Fellowship and in 2012 was awarded an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award. In 2016 he was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship. His research focuses on combining evolutionary and genetic approaches to human behaviour; what evolutionary processes gave rise to the characteristics of our species and why there are wide, heritable individual differences in these characteristics despite selective pressures favouring only the most advantageous genetic variants. He is particularly interested in mate preferences and choices.
457 Psychology Buliding (McElwain; 24A)
+61 7 3365 4466
Postal Address:
School of Psychology
McElwain Building
The University of Queensland
St Lucia, QLD 4072

Picture of 'Dr Brendan Zietsch'
Dr Brendan Zietsch

2006-2009 - PhD (The genetic etiology of human sexuality)

2000-2003 - B Psych Sc (Hons I)

Professional Activities:

Articles for The Conversation

Picture of 'Dr Brendan Zietsch'
Dr Brendan Zietsch
Research Activities:

My research activities focus on combining evolutionary and genetic approaches to human behaviour. This involves experiments, twin studies, and statistical genetics. Broadly, I want to know what evolutionary processes gave rise to the various characteristics of our extraordinary species, and why there are wide, heritable individual differences in these characteristics despite selective pressures favouring only the most advantageous genetic variants.

I'm particularly interested in mate preferences and choices, physical/behavioural/brain masculinity-femininity, physical attractiveness (face and body), intelligence, personality, and sexual behaviour and orientation.

Current PhD students under my primary supervision are James Sherlock, Jo-Maree Ceccato, Liza van Eijk, and Morgan Sidari. Dr Anthony Lee is a former student with whom I still collaborate, and Dr Karin Verweij is a former postdoc with whom I still collaborate. I work closely with Prof Bill von Hippel's research group here at UQ, as well as Nick Martin's Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory at QIMR Berghofer.

Representative Publications:

PDFs below are for personal use only.

Italics denotes students under my primary supervision.

† Authors contributed equally

64. Jern, P., Verweij, K. J. H., Barlow, F. K., & Zietsch, B. P. (2017). Reported associations between receptor genes and human sociality are explained by methodological errors, and do not replicate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [IF: 9.7] PDF; Discover magazine

63. Zietsch, B. P. (2017). Reasons for caution about the fraternal birth order effect. Archives of Sexual Behavior. [IF: 2.7] PDF

62. Arslan, R. C., Willführ, K. P., Frans, E. M., Verweij, K. J. H., Bürkner, P., Myrskylä, M., Voland, E., Almqvist, C., Zietsch, B. P., & Lars Penke, L. (2017). Older fathers’ children have lower evolutionary fitness across four centuries and in four populations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. [IF: 4.8]

61. Lee, A. J., Wright, M. J., Martin, N. G., Keller, M. C, & Zietsch, B. P. (2017). Facial trustworthiness is associated with heritable aspects of face shape. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 3, 351-364. (invited contribution to special issue on face perception). PDF

60. Lee, A. J., Hibbs, C., Wright, M. J., Martin, N. G., Keller, M. C, & Zietsch, B. P. (2017). Assessing the accuracy of perceptions of intelligence based on heritable facial features. Intelligence, 64, 1-8. [IF: 3.2] PDF

59. Sherlock, J. M. & Zietsch, B. P. (2017) Longitudinal relationships between parent and child behavior need not implicate the influence of parental behavior and may reflect genetics: Comment on Waldinger and Schulz. Psychological Science. [IF: 4.9] PDF

58. Sherlock, J. M. & Zietsch, B. P. (in press) The link between deprivation and its behavioural constellation is confounded by genetic factors. Behavioral and Brain Sciences [IF: 20.8].

57. Arden, R. & Zietsch, B. P. (2017). An all-positive correlation matrix of test scores is not evidence of domain-general intelligence. Behavioral and Brain Sciences [IF: 20.8].

56. Robinson, M. R., Aaron Kleinman, A., Graff, M., Vinkhuyzen, A. A. E., Couper, D., Miller, M. B., Peyrot, W. J., Abdel Abdellaoui, A., Zietsch, B. P., Nolte, I. M., van Vliet-Ostaptchouk, J. V., Snieder, H., The LifeLines Cohort Study, Genetic Investigation of ANthropometric Traits (GIANT) consortium, Medland, S. E., Martin, N. G., Magnusson, P. K. E., Iacono, W. G., McGue, M., North, K. E., Yang, J., & Visscher, P. M. (2017). Genetic evidence of assortative mating in humans. Nature Human Behavior, 1, 0016. PDF

55. Sherlock, J. M., Verweij, K. J. H., Murphy, S. C., Heath, A. C., Martin, N. G., & Zietsch, B. P. (2017). The role of genes and environment in degree of partner self-similarity, 47, 25-35. Behavior Genetics. [IF: 3.3]  PDF

54. Maciejewski, D.F., Renteria, M.E., Abdellaoui, A., Medland, S.E., Few, L.R., Gordon, S.D., Madden, P.A.F., Montgomery, G., Trull, T.J., Heath, A.C., Statham, D.J., Martin, N.G., Zietsch, B.P., & Verweij, K.J.H. (2017). The association of genetic predisposition to depressive symptoms with non-suicidal and suicidal self-injuries. Behavior Genetics, 47, 3-10. [IF: 3.3]

53. Sherlock, J. M., Sidari, M. J., Harris, E. A., Barlow, F. K., & Zietsch, B. P. (2016). Testing the mate-choice hypothesis of the female orgasm: disentangling traits and behaviours. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 6: 10.3402/snp.v6.31562 (invited contribution to special issue on female orgasm). IFL

52. Zietsch, B. P. (2017). Twins studies. Eds. Shackelford, T. K. & Weekes-Shackelford, V. A. Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science.

51. Sherlock, J. M. & Zietsch, B. P. (2017). Recessive genes. Eds. Shackelford, T. K. & Weekes-Shackelford, V. A. Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science.

50. Barlow, F. K., Sherlock, J. M., & Zietsch, B. P. (2017). Is prejudice heritable? Evidence from twin studies. Eds. Sibley, C. G. & Barlow, F. K. Cambridge Handbook of the Psychology of Prejudice. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 

49. Lee, A. J., Mitchem, D. G., Wright, M. J., Martin, N. G., Keller, M. C., & Zietsch, B. P. (2016). Facial averageness and genetic quality: Testing heritability, genetic correlation with attractiveness, and the paternal age effect. Evolution and Human Behavior, 37, 61-66. [IF: 3.1] PDF

48. Zietsch, B. P. (2016). Individual differences as the output of evolved calibration mechanisms: Does the theory make sense in light of empirical observations? Current Opinion in Psychology, 7, 71-75. (invited review). PDF

47. Lee, A. J., Brooks, R. C., Potter, K. J., & Zietsch, B. P. (2015) Pathogen disgust sensitivity and resource scarcity are associated with mate preference for different waist-to-hip ratios, shoulder-to-hip ratios, and body mass index. Evolution and Human Behavior, 36, 480-488. [IF: 3.1] PDF

46. Sherlock, J. M., Zietsch, B.P., Tybur, J. M., Jern, P. J. (2015). The quantitative genetics of disgust sensitivity. Emotion, 16, 43-51. [IF: 3.4]

45. Zietsch, B. P., Lee, A. J., Sherlock, J. M., Jern, P. (2015). Variation in women’s facial masculinity preference is better explained by genetic differences than by previously identified context-dependent effects. Psychological Science, 28, 1440-1448. [IF: 4.9] PDF

44. Hansell, N. K., ... Zietsch, B. P. , . . . Wright, M. J. (2015). Genetic basis of a cognitive complexity metric. PLos One, 10(4), e0123886. [IF: 3.2] PDF

43. Haysom, H. J., Mitchem, D. G., Lee, A. J., Wright, M. J., Martin, N. G., Keller, M. C., & Zietsch, B. P. (2015). A test of the facultative calibration/reactive heritability model of extraversion. Evolution and Human Behavior, 36, 414-419. [IF: 3.1] PDF

42. Mosing, M. A.†, Verweij, K. J. H.†, Madison, G., Pedersen, N. L., Zietsch, B. P., & Ullen, F. (2015). Did sexual selection shape human music? Testing predictions from the sexual selection hypothesis of music evolution using a large genetically informative sample of over 10,000 twins. Evolution and Human Behavior, 36, 359-366. [IF: 3.1] PDF

41. Lee, A. J. & Zietsch, B. P. (2015). Women's pathogen disgust predicting preference for facial masculinity may be specific to age and study design. Evolution and Human Behavior, 36, 249-255. [IF: 3.1] PDF

40. Mitchem, D. G., Zietsch, B. P., Wright, M. J., Martin, N. G., Hewitt, J. K., & Keller, M. C. (2015). No relationship between intelligence and facial attractiveness in a large, genetically informative sample. Evolution and Human Behavior, 36, 240-247. [IF: 3.1] PDF

39. Zietsch, B. P., Westberg, L., Santtila, P., & Jern, P. (2015). Genetic analysis of human extrapair mating: Heritability, between-sex correlation, and receptor genes for vasopressin and oxytocin. Evolution and Human Behavior, 36, 130-136. [IF: 3.1]. PDF

38. Zietsch, B. P., de Candia, T. R., & Keller, M. C. (2015). Evolutionary behavioral genetics. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 2, 73-80. PDF (invited review)

37. Haysom, H.J., Verweij, K.J.H., Zietsch, B.P., 2015. Evolutionary models of personality. In: James D. Wright (editor-in-chief), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Vol 17. Oxford: Elsevier. pp. 899–905.

36. Abdellaoui, A.†, Verweij, K. J. H.†, & Zietsch, B. P. (2014). No evidence for genetic assortative mating beyond that due to population stratification. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [IF: 9.7] PDF

35.Verweij, K. J. H., Abdellaoui, A., Veijola, J., Sebert, S., Koiranen, M., Keller, M. C., Järvelin, M-R., & Zietsch, B. P. (2014). The association of genotype-based inbreeding coefficient with a range of physical and psychological human traits. PLoS One. [IF: 3.2] PDF

34.Verweij, K. J. H., Burri, A. V., & Zietsch, B. P. (2014). Testing the prediction from sexual selection of a positive genetic correlation between human mate preferences and corresponding traits. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35, 497-501. [IF: 3.1] PDF

33. Lee, A. J., Dubbs, S. L. von Hippel, W. Brooks, R. C. & Zietsch, B. P. (2014). A multivariate approach to human mate preferences. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35, 193-203. [IF: 3.1] PDF

32. Zietsch, B. P., Kuja-Halkola, R., Walum, H. & Verweij, K. J. H. (2014) Perfect genetic correlation between number of offspring and grandoffspring in an industrialized human population. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,111, 1032-1036. [IF: 9.7] PDF

31. Lee, A. J., Mitchem, D. G., Wright, M. J., Martin, N. G., Keller, M. C., & Zietsch, B. P. (2014) Genetic factors increasing male facial masculinity decrease facial attractiveness of female relatives. Psychological Science, 25, 476-484. (IF: 4.9) PDF

30. Mitchem, D. G., Purkey, A. M., Grebe, N. M., Carey, G., Garver-Apgar, C. E., Bates, T. C., Arden, R., Hewitt, J. K., Medland, S. E., Martin, N. G., Zietsch, B. P. & Keller, M. C. (2013). Estimating the sex-specific effects of genes on facial attractiveness and sexual dimorphism. Behavior Genetics, 44, 270-281. (IF: 3.2) PDF

29. Zietsch, B. P. & Santtila, P. (2013) No direct relationship between human female orgasm rate and number of offspring. Animal Behaviour, 86, 253-255. (IF: 3.1) PDF
28. Keller, M. C., Garver-Apgar, C. E., Wright, M. J., Martin, N. G.,  Corley, R. P., Stallings, M. C., Hewitt, J. K., & Zietsch, B. P.  (2013) The genetic correlation between height and IQ: Shared genes or assortative mating? PLoS Genetics. (IF: 7.5) PDF
27. Lee, A. J., Dubbs, S. L., Kelly, A. J., von Hippel, W., Brooks, R. C. & Zietsch, B. P. (2013). Human facial attributes, but not perceived intelligence, are used as cues of health and resource provision potential. Behavioral Ecology, 24, 779-787. (IF: 3.2) PDF
26. Verweij, K. J. H.†, Burri, A. V. & Zietsch, B. P.† (2012). Evidence for genetic variation in human mate preferences for sexually dimorphic physical traits. PLoS One, 7:e49294. (IF: 3.2) PDF
25. Zietsch, B. P. & Santtila, P. (2012). Confusion in the science of evolution and orgasm: A reply to Wallen, Myers, and Lloyd. Animal Behaviour, e5-e7. (IF: 3.1) PDF
24. Verweij, K. J. H.†, Yang, J., Lahti, J., Veijola, J., Hintsanen, M., Pulkki-Raback, L., Heinonen, K., Pouta, A., Pesonen, A. K., Widen, E., Taanila, A., Isohanni, M., Miettunen, J., Palotie, A., Penke, L., Service, S. K., Heath, A. C., Montgomery, G. W., Raitakari, O. T., Kahonen, M., Viikari, J., Raikkonen, K., Eriksson, J. G., Keltikangas-Jarvinen, L., Lehtimaki, T., Martin, N. G., Jarvelin, M-R, Visscher, P. M., Keller, M. C., Zietsch, B. P.† (2012). Maintenance of genetic variation in human personality: Testing evolutionary models by estimating heritability due to common causal variants and investigating the effect of distant inbreeding. Evolution, 66, 3238-51. (IF: 4.6) PDF
23. Zietsch, B. P., Verweij, K. J. H., & Burri, A. (2012). Heritability of preferences for multiple cues of mate quality in humans. Evolution, 66, 1762-72. (IF: 4.6) PDF
22. Zietsch, B. P. & Santtila, P. (2011). Genetic analysis of orgasmic function in twins and siblings does not support the byproduct theory of female orgasm. Animal Behaviour, 82, 1097-1101. (IF: 3.1) PDF
21. Zietsch, B. P., Verweij, K. J. H.†, Heath, A. C., Madden, P. A., Martin, N. G., Nelson, E. C., & Lynskey, M. T. (2012). Do shared etiological factors contribute to the relationship between sexual orientation and depression? Psychological Medicine, 42, 521-533. (IF: 5.9) PDF
20. Zietsch, B. P. (2011). Explanations for elevated psychiatric vulnerability in nonheterosexuals: Environmental stressors, genetics, and the HPA and HPG axes. In Psychiatric Disorders - Worldwide Advances, ed. T. Uehara. InTech, Rijeka, 277-300. PDF
19. Lee, A. J. & Zietsch, B. P. (2011). Experimental evidence that women's mate preferences are directly influenced by cues of pathogen prevalence and resource scarcity. Biology Letters, 7, 892-895. (IF: 3.2) PDF
18. Zietsch, B. P., Miller, G. F., Bailey, J. M., & Martin, N. G. (2011). Female orgasm rates are largely independent of other traits: Implications for “female orgasmic disorder” and evolutionary theories of orgasm. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8, 2305-2316. (IF: 3.8) PDF
17. Zietsch, B. P.†, Verweij, K. J. H.†, Heath, A. C. & Martin, N. G. (2011). Variation in human mate choice: simultaneously investigating heritability, parental influence, sexual imprinting, and assortative mating. American Naturalist, 177, 605-616. (IF: 3.8) PDF

16. Verweij, K. J. H., Zietsch, B. P., Liu, J. Z., Medland, S. E., Lynskey, M. T., Madden, P. A. F., Agrawal, A., Montgomery, G. W., Heath, A. C. & Martin, N. G. (2012). No association of candidate genes with cannabis use in a large sample of Australian twin families. Addiction Biology, 17, 687-690.(IF: 5.4) PDF

15. Powell, J. E.† & Zietsch, B. P.† (2011). Predicting sensation seeking from dopamine genes: Use and misuse of genetic prediction. Psychological Science, 22, 413-415. (IF: 4.9) PDF

14. Verweij, K.J.H., Mosing, M.A., Zietsch, B.P., & Medland, S.E. (2012). Estimating heritability from twin studies. Methods in Molecular Biology, 850, 151-170.
13. Verweij, K.J.H., Zietsch, B.P., Medland, S.E., Benyamin, B., Nyholt, D.R., Gordon, S.D., McEvoy, B.P., Martin, N.G., Montgomery, G.W., & Wray, N.R. (2010). A genome-wide association study of Cloninger’s Temperament scales: Implications for the evolutionary genetics of personality. Biological Psychology, 85, 306-317. (IF 3.4) PDF
12. Verweij, K.  J.  H., Zietsch, B. P., Lynskey, M. T., Medland, S. E., Neale, M. C., Martin, N. G., Boomsma, D. I., and Vink, J. M. (2010). Genetic and environmental influences on cannabis use initiation and problematic use: a meta-analysis of twin studies. Addiction, 105, 417-430.  (IF 4.7) PDF
11. Zietsch, B. P., Verweij, K. J. H., Bailey, J. M., Wright, M. J., and Martin, N. G. (2010). Genetic and environmental influences on risky sexual behaviour and its relationship with personality. Behavior Genetics, 40, 12-21. (IF: 3.2) PDF
10. Zietsch, B. P., Verweij, K. J. H., Bailey, J. M., Wright, M. J., and Martin, N. G. (2011). Sexual orientation and psychiatric vulnerability: a twin study of Neuroticism and Psychoticism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 133-142. (IF: 2.6) PDF
9. Mosing, M. A., Zietsch, B. P., Shekar S. N., Wright, M. J., and Martin, N. G. (2009). Genetic and environmental influences on optimism and its relationship to mental and self-rated health: a study of aging twins. Behavior Genetics, 39, 597-604. (IF: 3.2) PDF
8. Verweij, K. J. H.†, Zietsch, B. P.†, Bailey, J. M., and Martin, N. G. (2009). Shared etiology of risky sexual behaviour and adolescent misconduct: genetic and environmental influences. Genes, Brain and Behavior, 8, 107-113. (IF: 3.7) PDF
7. Zietsch, B. P., Morley, K. I., Shekar, S. N., Verweij, K. J. H., Keller, M. C., Macgregor, S., Wright, M. J., Bailey, J. M., and Martin, N. G. (2008). Genetic factors predisposing to homosexuality may increase mating success in heterosexuals. Evolution and Human Behaviour, 29, 424-433. (IF: 3.1) PDF
6. Verweij, K. J. H., Shekar, S. N., Zietsch, B. P., Eaves, L. J., Bailey, J. M., Boomsma, D. I., and Martin, N.G. (2008). Genetic and environmental influences on individual differences in attitudes toward homosexuality: an Australian twin study. Behavior Genetics, 38 (3), 257-265. (IF: 3.2) PDF
5. Zietsch, B. P., Hansen, J. L., Hansell, N. K., Geffen, G. M., Martin, N. G., and Wright, M. J. (2007). Common and specific genetic influences on EEG power bands delta, theta, alpha, and beta. Biological Psychology, 75, 154-164. (IF: 3.4) PDF


---- Below are pre-PhD papers as a research assistant in neuroanatomy ---

4. Elston, G. N., Benavides-Piccione, R., Elston, A., Zietsch, B., DeFelipe J., Manger, P. R., Casagrande, V., and Kaas, J. H. (2006). Specializations of the granular prefrontal cortex of primates: implications for cognitive processing. Anatomical Record, 288 (1), 26-35. (IF: 1.3) PDF
3. Elston, G. N., and Zietsch, B. (2006). Fractal analyses; a study of circuit specialization in the cerebral cortex of primates. Advances in Complex Systems, 8, 217-227. (IF: 0.8)
2. Zietsch, B., and Elston G. N. (2005). Fractal analysis of pyramidal cells in the visual cortex of the galago (Otolemur garnetti): regional variation in dendritic branching patterns between visual areas. Fractals, 13, 83-90. (IF: 0.4)
1. Jelinek, H. F., Elston, G. N., & Zietsch, B. (2005). Fractal analysis: Pitfalls and revelations in neuroscience. In Fractals in Biology and Medicine, eds. G. A. Losa, D. Merlini & T. F. Nonnenmacher. Birkhauser Basel, 85-94.

IF = ISI Impact Factor (2014)


Picture of 'Dr Brendan Zietsch'
Dr Brendan Zietsch
Evolutionary and genetic approaches to human behaviour and individual differences. Personality, mate preferences, mate choice, sexual dimorphism (masculinity and femininity), female orgasm, disgust sensitivity
cognitive psychology
Research Area:

I’m interested in mate preferences and choices, mate value, physical attractiveness, intelligence, personality, sexual orientation, masculinity-femininity, sexual behaviour, and how these relate to sexual selection and the evolution of the human mind.

My supervision style is flexible. You will attend weekly lab meetings with the von Hippel lab group; however, one-on-one supervisory meetings can be organised weekly or as-needed depending on your preference. Data collection will take approximately 30 hours across the two semesters and will be collected in two teams of two using the SONA 1st year participant pool.

The projects below represent example theses for 2017. If you selected one of these, you would review the literature and come up with your own specific hypotheses for the project. Alternatively, we can discuss any other project ideas you may have that fit in with my research areas and methodology. If you'd like to talk about any of these options, don't hesitate to contact me. Alternatively, come and say hi at the supervisor meet and greet in January.

1. Do men produce and women appreciate humour?

Previous research has shown that the sexes place different emphases on the importance on humour. Allegedly, women prefer men who are funny and men prefer women who find them funny. However, a second line of research has demonstrated that people’s explicit preferences may not correspond to the implicit preferences they show when rating actual people. We suspect this may be the case with humour production and appreciation. For this project, you will have participants rate each other on ‘(s)he is funny’ and ‘(s)he finds me funny’ and see how this influences the extent to which they find each other attractive.

2. Do people prefer partners similar to themselves?

Assortative mating, the phenomenon whereby individuals mate with individuals who are similar to them, has been demonstrated for several physical and psychological traits. However, people’s mate preferences and mate choice do not always coincide, which raises the question of whether this is out of preference or compromise. While people’s explicit preferences for self-similarity have been tested previously, the implicit preferences they show when rating actual people have not. For this project, you would choose several key traits (physical and/or psychological) and investigate whether people find similarity based on these traits attractive.

3. What makes an attractive body?

In an evolutionary sense, the most important aspect of a potential partner is their ability to produce and rear healthy children.  This should result in men favouring women with body dimensions that signal youth and fertility and women favouring men with body dimensions that signal genetic quality and capacity for protection. Though this area has been studied extensively, there is limited research that includes 1) ratings of men and 2) in-person ratings. For this project, you would use several key body dimensions to predict in-person ratings of bodily attractiveness from members of the opposite sex.

4. What makes an attractive face?

Many traits have been associated with facial attractiveness, these include symmetry, averageness, masculinity-femininity and more. Previous research has used facial analysis and ratings of photographs to better understand what makes a face attractive. However, it is not clear that these ratings of photographs accurately capture the attraction that might occur in person. For this project, you would collect photographs for facial analysis and compare participants’ masculinity/femininity with in-person ratings of facial attractiveness. There would also be scope to compare these in-person ratings to photograph ratings if you chose to do so.


All of these projects use a modified speed-dating paradigm. Participants complete a series of questionnaires regarding themselves and the other participants they speak to during the session. By using this ‘dyadic data’, we are able to go beyond self-report and gain insights into attraction from both perspectives. The data are analysed using multi-level modeling and you should therefore be fairly confident with statistics. For examples of previous projects using the speed-dating paradigm, please see these previous theses.

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