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Vasopressin Hormone: The Monogamy Gene?

Vasopressin Hormone: The Monogamy Gene? – Marriage is a bond between two people that is sealed with vows of faithfulness. Marriage is portrayed through the media usually in one of two ways, happily ever after or divorce. What is left out much of the time, is lying cheating and deceiving that leads to those divorces. Adultery is a problem that has faced marriages since the beginning of wedlock history. It is harmful act that effects not only the one cheating, the one being cheated on and the one being cheated with, but also the children, if it is a family situation, the in laws in both situations, and the mutual friends between all of the parties involved. There are always a surplus for excuses that lead to this act, but is it possible that there is a legitimate excuse for this act of deceit? Could some marriages be doomed from the very beginning? These questions haunt the minds of many individuals who are in a relationship.

The statistics of adultery victims seem to be on the increase, but another surprising fact is that more often women are the victim. According to Mitchell (2004) “60-70 percent of adultery victims are women” while “30-40 percent of adultery victims are men.” Adultery is one of the top reasons cited for divorce. It is really no wonder with the amount of readily available sex partners and our modern technology it seems this trend will continue to increase. With that modern technology we may also be finding a like to unfaithful habits as well a way to decrease their occurrence.

There are many reasons claimed to be the cause for adultery. Some say it is a lack of affection in the relationship, loss of attraction to the spouse, a need for sexual variety, anger, critical life events: death, shift of social status, or personal failure. With all of these excuses or reasons for being unfaithful is there any need to add one more? The answer is definitely no, however contrary to this, it could be possible that the desire for multiple partners could be based on a monogamy gene. That is correct, infidelity could be genetic. It is not too much to say though, that even with evidence that there could be a link between monogamy and genetics, there should be no excuse for deceit or disregarding a vow of faithfulness. With or without this gene in their DNA, each person is accountable for their actions through knowledge of what is right and wrong as well as the will power to control ones self. Understanding what a gene is and how it effects our mind and body is the first key to investigating the theory of this “cheating gene”. Making sense of genetics is a complicated process, however Pierce (2008) helps to explain a gene in the following way: genes are what carry our traits through generations. You see we get our genes from our parents, each parent contributes genes and the dominant gene overpowers the recessive gene. We still obtain both genes, but the dominant gene shows through and the recessive gene remains dormant. Biologically genes are made up of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA is a double helix whose rungs contain the recipe, so to speak, for building proteins. These proteins contribute to the chemical reactions that are performed in our bodies, and are made up of amino acids. So basically a gene built from multiple strands of DNA, DNA is multiple proteins, and proteins are multiple amino acids. Now to put our biology lesson to use, we will investigate the validity of the proposed monogamy gene.

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Our short biology lesson will come into play later. Right now the question is, does this information give validity to the idea that committing adultery has an excusable reason? The reason being genetics. Only further exploration can determine if parents play a role in the act of infidelity made by their children. This takes us to investigate the monogamy gene. This specific gene is defined by its containment a specific hormone. The hormone is vasopressin. According to McCann (2006), this hormone has been discovered to be the key difference that makes prairie voles strictly monogamous and meadow voles promiscuous. This led to greater speculation of the effect this hormone has in humans. Typically vasopressin has a role in regulating water, glucose and salts in the blood as far as humans are concerned.

Vasopressin is a peptide hormone. Peptide hormones are developed in cells from amino acids which are created from the DNA template. Recall our biology lesson earlier, amino acids define a protein. Proteins are determined by the rungs of the DNA helix, and genes are made up of DNA. So vasopressin essentially is determined by a specific gene, or the monogamy gene, as it has come to be known. Is it possible that this hormone that plays such a different role in voles, may be effecting humans in the area of monogamy? This could bring on a whole new light to the process of determining a marriage partner. Testing your preferred spouse to see if they carry the gene, could be the determining factor in whether someone says, “I do.”

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Sonnebring (2007) tells us that researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have indeed uncovered the hormone in men and determined that it may indeed play a key role in whether they indulge with multiple partners. The test was run on 2,186 participants in a study called the TOSS, Twin Offspring Study in Sweden. Participants were asked to fill out a survey on the quality of their marriage. It was found that men who had the gene scored significantly lower in the area of partner bonding. One in three with the gene reported a crisis in their marriage within the past year. This is twice the amount of those without the variation. Thus supporting the idea that this gene does in fact play a role in a mans tendency to bond with his spouse. And by determining that there is an unstable bond, cause for cheating may more easily become prevalent.

Paul Lichtenstein, was the senior researcher in the paper from the Karolinska Institute, (Sonnebring 2007) and he said that no one should over-interpret the results of the study. The gene alone can not predict success in a relationship, and should never be used as a test for marriage. It has no correlation with how to succeed in a relationship, it only helps in understanding why people bond and gives a predisposition. There is no determination of how successful a marriage will or will not be.

Shetty (2008) expresses that it’s still not clear how the vasopressin affects bonding in humans. With voles, the gene affects the reward and reinforcement areas of the brain. These parts of the brain are also involved in addiction. In humans, the brain chemical primarily regulates water retention in the body, however recently vasopressin has been linked to aggression and blood pressure. Sonnebring (2007) relates that the study intrigues people, because it addresses a basic question of why people bond and mate for life. What is exciting is that there seems to be some biology behind it. According to Shetty (2008) it may be possible to manipulate some genetics in such a way that social skill and social interactions between those with psychiatric disorders may be enhanced. That does not mean it will lead to a cure for troubled marriages. In accordance with these studies it is possible that genes may play a role in the predisposition one has to be monogamous or promiscuous, just as in the case with the voles. However, this does not determine whether a person will become involved in infidelity or not. The validity or the monogamy gene has been proven to some extent, but as for the exact effect is plays in humans and how precisely it is attached to monogamous relationships is unclear. What is clear is that vasopressin seems to have a link with how one person may bond with another, and this could have an effect on ones desire for multiple partners. Now we understand that our genes play a key role not only in our appearance and intelligence, but also in our habits and social ability to bond with those around us. These genetics are passed down from generation to generation. Although this monogamy gene, liked to the vasopressin hormone, seems to have a part in the monogamous habits of voles, the same may or may not hold true for humans. What is certain is that vasopressin regulates water retention and has been liked to aggression and blood pressure, and further study may show that it plays a part in the bonding habits of humans. So thus far evidence does not provide an excuse for deceit or disregard of vows of faithfulness in marriage. Individuals are still accountable for the choices and actions they make through the knowledge of what is right and wrong as well obtaining the will power to control ones self. We can however hope that with further study of this gene and the hormone vasopressin that we may be able to help those with social disorders, such as those with psychiatric disorders that they may obtain the ability to comfortable fit interact with society.

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McCann, S.M.(May 2006)V1a Vasopres

Mitchell, B.(2004)The More You Know: Getting the Evidence and Support your Need to Investigate a Troubled Relationship. Greenville, SC: Eagle’s Nest Publications

Pierce, B.A. (2008) Genetics: A Conceptual Approach(3rded). New York: W.H. Freeman and Company

Shetty,P. (2008) Monogamy Gene Found in People. New Scientist Life,22. Retrieved from: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14641-monogamy-gene-found-in-people.html

Sonnebring, G. (2007) Twin Offspring Study in Sweden- TOSS, Department of Medical Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Karoline Institute. Retrieved from: http://ki.se/ki/jsp/polopoly.jsp