Commitment-Phobic Men Can Blame Their DNA

By Eliza Strickland | September 2, 2008 8:38 am

wedding kissResearchers have found a gene in men that’s linked to happy marriages, according to a new study. The gene determines how the brain responds to a hormone that has previously been shown to cause monogamous behavior in prairie voles; researchers found that men with a certain variant of the gene were less likely to be married to their partners, and if they were married, they were more likely to have had a marital crisis and to have discussed the possibility of divorce.

In the study, researchers studied the genetics of more than 550 men who were in relationships, and then asked both the men and their partners a series of questions. Men with a variant of the gene tended to score badly on a questionnaire designed to assess how well they bond with their partner and were more likely to report having suffered marital difficulties…. The wives of those who were married were also less satisfied with their marriage than women whose husbands did not have that genetic variant [Telegraph].

The hormone, called vasopressin, has been shown to play an important role in the social lives of prairie voles. The mouselike animals, found in the grasslands of North America, are famous for social monogamy. Males tend to be family guys, sticking close to home and helping to raise the pups…. Over years of study, scientists have concluded that prairie vole bonding has much to do with vasopressin activity in the brains of males. Through a series of studies that manipulated vasopressin levels in the vole brain, scientists have even made the animals more, or less, faithful [Science News].

The study, which will appear in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [subscription required], does not suggest that women should force their fiancés to get a DNA test before agreeing to tie the knot, researchers say. “In a large population, people who have this particular variant in general will have more troubles in their marriages,” [psychiatrist Larry] Young said. “But you could never genotype one person and predict what their marriage going to be like. There are many other factors” [Bloomberg].

Read about the earlier research on those faithful prairie voles in the DISCOVER article, “Rakish Rodent Reformed.”

Image: iStockphoto


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