Infidelity and Genes: Is Infidelity Genetic?
By Kajay Williams
Infidelity can be devastating – but new research has come to light that suggests that individuals who are unfaithful to their spouses may be genetically predisposed to cheating, infidelity and one-night stands. The research suggests that the gene associated with other destructive behaviors, such as alcoholism and gambling – otherwise known as sensation-seeking behaviors – may also be responsible for sexually destructive behaviors, such as infidelity, one-night stands and sexual promiscuity.
The gene thought to be responsible for these behaviors is the DRD4 dopamine receptor gene. In the past, this gene has also been linked to sensation-seeking behaviors such as watching horror films, while another study has suggested that those with the gene are more likely to be open in new social situations, as well as more likely to be politically liberal.
These sorts of behaviors can be risky, but the rewards, in terms of thrill-seeking, can be fairly generous – which causes a rush of dopamine, which in turn can encourage the individual to seek out and embark on these types of behavior in the future.
The most recent study into this gene has found a correlation between an individual having the DRD4 gene and having a history of uncommitted sex. Researchers from Binghamton University, State University of New York studied the sexual behaviors of 181 young adults. They also took DNA samples. One of the lead researchers of the study, Justin Garcia, believes that this gene is linked to uncommitted sexual behavior simply because these types of behavior cause a rush of dopamine, which prompts the individual to continue exhibiting these types of behaviors in the future.
Uncommitted sex, such as one-night stands, an affair or unprotected sex are all activities that carry high risks. But when the risks are rewarded with feelings of adrenaline, the individual wants to repeat those behaviors again and again. Individuals with the DRD4 gene were twice as likely to have had one-night stands in the past, compared to those without the genes, and 50% of those with the DRD4 gene admitted to being unfaithful to a partner in the past – compared to 22% of those without the gene. This shows a very clear connection between the thrill-seeking gene and infidelity – which could show us that infidelity could be genetic.
Another study by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet has found a link between a certain gene and the way that men bond to their partners. Their research also indicated that men with the gene were more likely to have had a marital crisis in the past year – and perhaps most surprisingly, women married to men with the gene were likely to be less happy in their marriage than those married to men without the gene. The gene being studied, allele 334, is a variant of vasopressin, a hormone that is present in the brain of most mammals. Men who carried the 334 variant were likely to report a strong bond to their partner – but they were also twice as likely to have had a marital crisis within the last year.
The research also found that women were on average less happy in their relationships with men that carried one or two copies of the gene variant, than those who were in relationships with men without the gene variant. The gene variant has also been studied in voles and the presence of the gene has been linked to monogamous behavior – which echoes the findings in the study in men that those with the gene were more likely to report a strong bond to their partner.
Although this research shows correlations, none of the research has indicated cause and effect. Justin Garcia, the lead researcher of the DRD4 study, stresses that the relationship between the gene and behavior is associative – meaning that although the gene could indicate the occurrence of promiscuous or thrill-seeking behavior in some individuals, in other individuals with the gene, the same behaviour may never occur. This is also true of the allele 334 study – just because a man has the allele 334 gene does not automatically mean that he will more likely to go on to have a relationship or marital crisis, even though the occurrence of the gene makes it more likely.
Justin Garcia has also stressed that the occurrence of this gene “does not let transgressors off the hook”. He says that many individuals without the thrill-seeking gene will embark on these types of thrill-seeking sensation-seeking behaviors, while many individuals with the gene will never cheat on their partner. The study simply suggests that a higher proportion of those with the gene will cheat on their partners.
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