full version Fidelity Gene Essay

Fidelity Gene

Category: Psychology

Autor: webster 14 November 2009

Words: 1823 | Pages: 8

How many times have you been flipping through the channels on your television set when you catch a glimpse of an all too familiar talk show like Maury, Ricki Lake, or Jenny Jones? Of course, curiosity sets in which causes you to stop and watch for a moment. It is then that you realize that today’s topic is “Maury, help me find out if my boyfriend is cheating on me!” Yes, I will admit that I, just like most people, get sucked in and end up watching the rest of the show thinking “Man, I would hate to be in her shoes.” Sadly, we all know of at least one person that has been cheated on, or even worse, we’ve been the one whose been cheated on. We can all agree that cheating is just one more social problem that plagues our society today, but can infidelity be regarded as a medical condition? Can it be diagnosed and cured? It is common belief that at the rate that technology is improving and our vast knowledge through research is growing, science along with psychology may one day be able to cure just about everything… even infidelity in humans.
Before jumping into the case of infidelity, let’s first look at a different type of medical condition found in humans, autism. Autism is a disease that causes mild to strong abnormalities among social interaction in humans. Those suffering from autism, about 0.02% to 0.05% of the population, usually cannot communicate well with others or form normal relationships because they are unaware of the needs and feelings of other people. In short, autistic people cannot achieve normal contact outside of their own being and thus, usually do not make friends. Because of this inability to make friends, autistic children usually partake in repetitious activities (“Autism,” Encyclopedia Encarta). For example, they may be able to entertain themselves for quite some time by turning a light switch on and off over and over again or spinning around in circles.
At one point in time, autism was classified as a psychological disorder caused by a very strong traumatic experience in the early development of the child. Such an experience would cause the child to close himself off to the world and live in some sort of make-believe or fantasy world where he could not be traumatized again. New research disproves this early theory and now indicates that autism is possibly caused by defects in the structure and function of the brain. Usually, those suffering from autism have low blood flow to certain sections of the brain and have reduced numbers of specific brain cells. There also seems to be a link between relatives with or without autism. In other words, a family with one autistic child is likely to have another child with the same disorder (“Autism,” Encyclopedia Encarta). These two ideas suggest that mutations in genes are important in causing autism. Thus, a cure for autism may lye at the hands of finding a way to mutate these genes back into “normal” genes like those found in the brains of those not suffering from autism (Kettlewell, 2004).
So by now you might be asking yourself, “What does all of this talk about autism have to do with cheating boyfriends?” Surprisingly, the two may have more in common than you think. In a very radical view, infidelity can be thought of as a very mild form of autism. Now before you discredit the rest of this article you must realize that a person suffering from autism may not be totally hindered by their disorder. In fact, some of these people can live independently as adults with very mild symptoms of the disease (“Autism,” Encyclopedia Encarta). Obviously, not all adulterous males are autistic, but both autism and infidelity can be thought of as social disorders. How? Well, as you may remember, one of the characteristics of autistic people is that they do not realize that other people have feelings or needs. Similarly, “cheaters” do not take into consideration that their actions may hurt those that they are unfaithful to. Moreover, autistic people usually cannot form normal, long lasting relationships. This often results in isolation and detachment unless something (such as nourishment) is absolutely needed for survival from a second party. Likewise, those who are unfaithful usually do not want mental or emotional relationships from their partners; all they want is to fulfill their physical desires. This comparison leads us to believe that a cure for autism, in its mildest form, may also be a “cure” for infidelity.
Unfortunately, as of now there is no cure for autism, but there are treatments that may reduce its symptoms. One such treatment is the use of such medications like antipsychotic drugs that minimize abusive behavior, drugs that increase chemicals of the brain which cause decreases in compulsive behaviors, or other drugs that lessen the severity of the symptoms of autism altogether (“Autism,” Encyclopedia Encarta). Of more importance, however, is the research currently being done with the hormone vasopressin.
Studies involving the naturally monogamous prairie vole (animals similar to mice) indicate that vasopressin has been found to be the cause for the male vole sticking around and “falling in love” with their mate. Why? Well, one theory suggests that vasopressin is released when having sex. This vasopressin is then collected by the vasopressin V1a receptors which in turn cause a very enjoyable feeling. Receptors for vasopressin are located in the part of the brain associated with pleasure and reward (Mcilroy, 2004). The voles then associate this amazing sensation not with sex in general, but with sex with that particular mate. The voles want to continue to be stimulated in the same manner each time they mate, so they stick around with the same mate because they think that only that one mate will be able to make them feel that way.
How can this theory be validated? Well, let’s consider meadow voles, close relatives to prairie voles. Unlike their cousins, meadow voles are not faithful; they have various mates and pretty much disown or detach themselves from their offspring. Why the big difference in mating patterns among such closely related animals? The big difference is that the meadow voles have fewer V1a receptors. To test the theory that the lack of V1a receptors is responsible for their infidelity, researchers gave meadow voles extra V1a receptors. Results showed that after this was done, the meadow voles became more faithful to their mates (Kettlewell, 2004). What does this research suggest about human relationships? Well, since vasopressin is also found in the human brain, men with fewer receptors are probably more likely to cheat (Mcilroy, 2004). Thus, one could conclude that the same theory of the vasopressin reward system may hold true for humans. In that case, it would be acceptable to say that sex is a binding factor in human relationships. No, I’m not saying that we are all sex-crazed beings and that the thought of sex consumes our minds all of the time. What I am saying is that sex could be a bond that maintains human interaction to fulfill the purpose of life. What is the purpose of life? Some argue that it is to make an impact on the world. Well, what better way to make an impact on the world than to spread your genes into the next generation. The way to do so is through sex and procreation. Thus, we as humans want to build relationships for sex and procreation.
So is it okay to conclude that by somehow injecting more V1a receptors into the brain of cheating boyfriends they would in turn become more faithful? I would say that it is highly unlikely. Although the results in the meadow voles were modifications in social behaviors, who’s to say that the same experiment would have the same effect on humans. In fact, it could just make your boyfriend want to cheat even more. Why? Well, even though you may not want to realize it, human males are much smarter than voles. Unlike the voles, cheating males probably already realize that they could get a similar sensation from several different mates. The heightened level of vasopressin may just cause this sensation to be better from each of his mates. This then would just cause the male to want to have sex more often so that he could get that same sensation each time. If one female isn’t up to this task, the “cheater” knows that he can always go to one of his other companions to fulfill his physical needs.
If for some reason the vasopressin theory would hold true for humans, however, there is still a highly unlikely chance of unfaithful males being cured left and right. This goes back to one of the very first questions I posed in this article: “Can infidelity be regarded as a medical condition?” and if it can, is it so imperative that we must find a cure for it? Most experts would not classify it as a medical condition. But supposed it were. Do you think that we would spend millions of dollars and countless hours coming up with a cure for it? Well, if we disregard the risk of contracting such sexually transmitted diseases like Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and even the risk of homicide, you really can’t die from cheating. So what is more likely to receive funding, a cure for cancer or a cure for infidelity? Hopefully, all of you reading would choose the first. As a woman myself, though, I can’t help but dream of a world full of faithful men that will stick around even when times are tough.
Living in the real world, we must realize that although some research suggests a possible cure for infidelity one day, common sense says that the day when all men will be faithful will never come true. Moreover, it is very unlikely that one day you will be able to go to your local pharmacist to refill your boyfriend’s monthly supply of “the fidelity pill.” It is true that science and psychology are making astounding leaps in the medical world, but not in the personal soap operas of many you readers out there.


"Autism," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Kettlewell, Julianna. “‘Fidelity gene’ found in voles.” BBC News Online

Mcilroy, Anne “Could voles help create the perfect husband?” The Globe and Mail.