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Genetic Switches Behind 'Love' Identified In Prairie Voles 102

ananyo writes "Researchers have shown for the first time that the act of mating induces permanent chemical modifications in the chromosomes (epigenetic changes), affecting the expression of genes that regulate sexual and monogamous behavior in prairie voles. Prairie voles have long been of interest to neuroscientists and endocrinologists who study the social behavior of animals, in part because this species forms monogamous pair bonds — essentially mating for life. The voles' pair bonding, sharing of parental roles and egalitarian nest building in couples makes them a good model for understanding the biology of monogamy and mating in humans (abstract)."
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Genetic Switches Behind 'Love' Identified In Prairie Voles

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  • Re:Good model?!? (Score:5, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:54PM (#43897429) Journal

    The voles' pair bonding, sharing of parental roles and egalitarian nest building in couples makes them a good model for understanding the biology of monogamy and mating in humans

    A good model for ideal human behavior, sure, but actual behavior?!? One wonders if the researchers have met any actual human couples.

    People like the vole model because prairie voles are(somewhat atypically) pair-bonded; but there is at least one closely related vole flavor that isn't. Makes narrowing down the elements involved (comparatively) pleasant and straightforward, by biology standards. Plus, 'vole' is pretty close to 'lab rat' in terms of size/cost/lifecycle-length/animal-rights-activists-setting-fire-to-your-lab, which makes it preferable to larger, more unwieldy, comparison animals.

  • Re:Or the opposite (Score:5, Informative)

    by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @01:17PM (#43897721)

    There is minimal evidence to suggest that humans are biologically predsposed to long-term pair bonding at all, in fact there's considerable evidence to the contrary. Oxytocin does however seem to be a significant agent in the amount of pair-bonding we are predisposed to.

    The problem is that researchers like these try to use species that are biologically inclined to long-term monogamy as models for an unrelated species (us) that are sociologically biased towards it. Because the basic fact is that sociological behaviors operate on an almost completely different set of rules, and changes on timescales that genetics can't hope to respond to effectively.

    So how about for a change instead of trying to shoehorn human behavior into some sort of arbitrary "moral ideal", we instead take a good hard look at what we actually are, and adjust our sociological and moral norms to be in line with our basic natures. Socially enforced monogamy was a useful solution to support child-rearing as our societies grew beyond the scale where tribalism was effective, but it was hardly the *only* solution, and irrationally clinging to it as the ideal today, when pretty much everything else about our society has been utterly transformed, is intellectually questionable at best.

  • Re:Hypergamy Cure? (Score:4, Informative)

    by femtobyte ( 710429 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @02:14PM (#43898293)

    One can hardly call this "human nature" when pretty much every other developed country has higher equality and social mobility --- if anything, the US is bucking the trend of human nature to seek higher ideals of equality and freedom once technological development allows the satisfaction of lower needs. Of course, the key is not convincing more rich white male rich guys to marry their Mexican maids despite a complete lack of shared culture, but to create a society where there is a sense of shared culture and humanity between people in all walks of life. For example, having a robust and high-quality public education system so both the kids of millionaires and janitors grow up socializing together is a key component in more egalitarian societies. So to is having high minimum wage standards and social safety nets, so that even maids can have time/access to hobbies and culture and forming relationships outside of a depressed community of grinding poverty. When living on a lower quintile income isn't a death sentence for your children's hopes and dreams and future, then there is much less of a barrier to marrying for love across income lines.

Money can't buy love, but it improves your bargaining position. -- Christopher Marlowe