Could a doctor’s note excuse your infidelity? A recent study lends support to the idea that cheating may have a genetic link.
“It’s pretty surprising, but I guess that could be one among many reasons that could lead people to cheat,” freshman Claire Nelson said.
New research has shown that the DRD4 gene influences brain chemistry, and could make individuals more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as one-night stands. The study was conducted by Justin Garcia, a researcher from Binghamton University, and several other researchers.
Garcia predicted that the DRD4 gene may be related to certain sexual behaviors. He tested his hypothesis by rounding up 181 college students and having them submit DNA samples and fill out questionnaires. He found that having a certain variation of the gene was correlated with significantly more instances of promiscuous behavior and a more than 50 percent increase in instances of sexual infidelity.
Psychology professor John Buri said he believes genetics could predispose individuals to infidelity.
“That’s certainly feasible,” Buri said. “There is a pretty heavy portion of our personality that is influenced by our genetic makeup, so why not our bonding?”
Genes could play a role, but that doesn’t let cheaters off the hook
Theology professor Bernard Brady said genetics might lead to a tendency toward a certain behavior, but genes themselves would not directly cause the action.
“If someone says, ‘I couldn’t help myself because I have this gene to cheat on my wife,’ I don’t buy that,” Brady said. “I would buy, ‘Sometimes it’s a struggle for me to stay faithful.’”
Buri said similar studies done in the past most often deal with the hormone vasopressin. There is significant research to show levels of this hormone affects animals and their sexual partners, and these findings could conceivably apply to humans as well, specifically males.
But a genetic predisposition to infidelity can only contribute so much to an individual’s actions, Buri said. He explained the difference between “maximizers” and “satisficers,” and he said people who fall into the former category could exhibit higher rates of unfaithful behavior.
“The satisficers have a set of criteria, and once the criteria are met, they’re happy, they are satisfied.” Buri said. “The maximizer is always looking for the perfect fit. For example, if you’re riding in your car, you switch from one station to another even though the song you are listening to is a perfectly good song, because there might be an even better one on the next station.”
These terms have commonly been applied to shopping behaviors, but Buri started applying these concepts to dating relationships. The latest studies show that “maximizers” are more apt to have cheated on their dating partners than “satisficers,” he said.
In an age where sites such as AshleyMadison.com, a website that helps married people set up affairs, can gain fame, does this new research provide further justification for unfaithful partners?
“I think that is how a lot of people have seen it,” Buri said. “One of the first things women asked when the research came out was, ‘Do you have a test for this, because I would like to test a man before I make a permanent commitment.’”
However, Buri said this is the wrong approach.
“Even though we might be genetically inclined, it helps us know that we need to take extra precautions so we don’t cheat,” Buri said.
Brady agreed that it might make people more careful with their choices.
“I know that there are genes that predetermine people to diseases, but that doesn’t mean that these people are going to get them,” Brady said. “In this situation, there is still ultimately small choices that individuals make to determine their behavior.”
Does the science give unfaithful partners an excuse for the infidelity? Nelson said she didn’t think so.
“I see that as being a tendency in your genetics, but you could have conscious control over that,” Nelson said.
Dr. Brady also said a gene predisposing one to unfaithfulness doesn’t excuse one’s actions.
“I have a hard time believing that genes would determine one’s behavior to have an affair,” Dr. Brady said. “Could [that] lead to thinking about straying? Yes … but a person does not need to act on these thoughts.”
Brady said thoughts of straying are not harmful unless acted upon.
“The idea of a passing thought is not sinful. It’s human,” he said. “But how one acts on that thought … that is where you start talking about choices made.”
But not everyone agrees that the study actually shows a direct link between the DRD4 gene and cheating. Biology professor Kurt Illig said the journalist who wrote the original summary of the peer-reviewed research article exaggerated the research data and misinterpreted the findings.
“There are no differences between groups that express DRD4 variants in terms of promiscuity or sexual fidelity,” Illig said in an e-mail interview. “There is only a very small difference in the total number of sexual partners outside the committed relationship.”
Dan Cook can be reached at Cook9156@stthomas.edu.