Some Men Just Can’t Keep Their Monogamy Genes On

May 9, 2013

brain monogamyThere is now excellent data available via brain imaging demonstrating that some people appear wired for monogamy, while others are not. Cindy Meston and David Buss, both of the University of Texas – Austin, brought men into the lab for MRIs and watched their brain activity while the men looked at three sets of pictures. The first set was of neutral scenes like sunsets. The second set was of romantic bonding scenes like holding hands and gazing, and the third set was of erotic scenes, like couples making love. (Note: While the initial research focused on men, they believe the findings hold true for women as well.)

They found that the dopamine reward centers of the brain basically went crazy in all men when the sexual imagery was shown. However, some men had similarly increased brain activity while looking at romantic pictures, and others did not. These responses correlated to the men’s descriptions of their own sociosexuality on the restricted to unrestricted scale. 

The reward areas in monogamous men’s brains lit up like Christmas trees in response to the sexual photos and the emotional bonding photos. In sharp contrast, the nonmonogamous men’s brains lit up only to the sexual stimuli; they showed very little activation in the rewards areas of the brain to the emotional bonding photos.

Additional research by Hasse Walum at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden examined the gene coding of 500 heterosexual men for a vasopressin receptor. The researchers also investigated the quality of their relationships.

They found that variation in a section of the gene called RS3 334 was linked to how men bond with their partners. Men can have none, one or two copies of the RS3 334 section, and the higher the number of copies, the worse men scored on a measure of pair bonding.

Not only that, men with two copies of RS3 334 were more likely to be unmarried than men with one or none, and if they were married, they were twice as likely to have a marital crisis.

These guys are clearly not cut out for committed relationships. It’s in your best interest to avoid men boasting two copies of RS3 334! No doubt we’ll have access to genetic testing one day  – we may ask a guy for his genetic profile before we agree to coffee. In the meantime, Peter Jonason and David Buss have studied what strategies nonmonogamous college men and women use:  Avoiding entangling commitments: Tactics for implementing a short-term mating strategy.

1. Practices simple forms of inaction.

  • Ignores the short-term partner.
  • Fails to respond to calls or messages.
  • Cuts off communication after a sexual encounter.

2. Avoids intimacy.

3. Avoids integrating the person into one’s social  life.

4. Is blunt and honest about intentions.

  • Declares interest in sex and nothing more.
  • Bluntly states a lack of interest in a relationship.
  • Lets the person know he’s having sex with others.

5. Actively pushes the sex partner away by using verbal or physical abuse. 

Buss and Jonason found that there were three factors that strongly correlated with the avoidance of “entangling commitments”:

  1. Dark Triad personality traits.
  2. Unrestricted sociosexuality.
  3. High mate value.

Obviously, women seeking relationships are at low risk of falling for a man who displays all of these tactics as part of a short-term mating strategy. But many guys softpedal their long-term rejection for a variety of reasons, including preserving their reputations as “good guys,” and hedging their bets to keep the supply of sex coming. They’ll typically use elements of Strategies 1-3.

In my view, you’re better off seeking the guys who display a romantic streak. Whether it’s remembering the day you met, planning “pair bonding” moments, or generally demonstrating affection, rewarding those behaviors is an excellent way to filter in guys who are capable of monogamy. Of course, if you’re the kind of girl who likes good looking narcissist assholes who don’t bond, go for it. I wish you all the best. Just know what you’re getting into.

In closing, I’ll point out that genes alone do not determine behavior. The prefrontal cortex is available to us for decision making. It’s by no means a certainty that a man wired for nonmonogamy will cheat on you if you happen to snag him for commitment. But I don’t like those odds. Early and comprehensive filtering is the best tool a woman has in her search for a life partner. You’re much better off with false positives (the one that got away) than with false negatives (you marry a double dose RS3 334 man, yikes).