FreeThought Fort Wayne

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Knowledge or Excuses?

Posted by Skeptigator on September 8, 2008

The Washington Post recently published the article Study Links Gene Variant in Men to Marital Discord. Recent research out of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm shows that men with multiple copies of a particular gene variant, which regulates the hormone vasopressin, are more likely to have troubled marriages and/or dissatisfied partners than men with only one or no copies. In fact, they were roughly twice as likely, which is statistically significant. This latest research dovetails nicely with an earlier study which showed that when the hormone vasopressin was manipulated in animals that normally mated for life they became loners and vice versa.

This article reminded me of the recent podcast episodes (Part 1 and Part 2) from Point of Inquiry in which Michael Dowd is interviewed about the need to understand evolution and human biology. He speaks about research that found a significant correlation between extra-marital affairs and when men (and women) are promoted within a company or take a new higher profile position or are elected to office, local or national. The promotion or election appears to cause a surge in testosterone which in turn cranks up the libido. Michael Dowd retells the story of man who became a CEO and then subsequently carried on a series of affairs. Until the promotion he had been a devoted husband and the affairs eventually ruined his marriage and cost him his job. He thanked Michael Dowd because it finally brought this man some understanding as to why the apparently sudden need to run around on his wife.

The obvious caveat to all of this is just because we may have biological predispositions to a certain behavior doesn’t mean we are exempted morally from doing the right thing. “Sorry about that affair dear but you know how my DNA has an effect on me”, just doesn’t cut it.

Isn’t having the knowledge that something like a promotion at work could cause a surge of hormones of teenage proportions to go raging through your vains valuable? Could it help someone avoid a potentially disastrous decision? Have you ever avoided going out socially with someone because the Temptation Factor would be huge, especially where there will be alcohol? You can always abstain from drinking you unfortunately can’t turn off the horny hormones.

Speaking of hormones like a fire hydrant, this reminds me of the claims by abstinence-only advocates that if you teach teenagers about sexuality and safe sex you are implicitly condoning the activity. That somehow if you show a teenager how to put a condom on a banana you are giving them a license to have at it in the hallways. Doesn’t this information help give teenagers the tools they need to make good decisions? Or just permission?

Perhaps this is more stream of consciousness writing than anything that truly connects together. I guess if you are recently elected or promoted teenager you’ll be fornicating in the streets. Sorry sport, it’s your DNA.


4 Responses to “Knowledge or Excuses?”

  1. The Nerd said

    This reminds me of the study that shows people with anorexia are more likely to lack pleasure that most people get when they consume calories. They just don’t enjoy eating. And yet we don’t say that excuses their behavior, on the contrary it is a useful tool to understand how to help them out.

    The same here – these people unfortunately lack satisfaction with monogamy, but this study will help us understand how to help those who wish to maintain it.

  2. Anorexia is great example I had forgotten about that. I think to some extent this type of thing is in the public consciousness for example with Depression and other disorders, like eating disorders.

    But I wonder how much the idea that in some ways your biology determines your reaction to certain situations.

  3. Skeptigator, thanks for this post, and for the generous mention of my Point of Inquiry interviews.

    You put your finger exactly on the issue – taking responsibility vs. rationalizing. Is it possible to learn about our evolved instincts, our ‘inhereted proclivities’ and simply use such knowledge as an excuse for irresponsible behavor? Of course. But in my experience, personally and for many others I know who have come to appreciate the challenges of living in a postmodern world with instincts ‘designed’ (by nature) to lead us to survive and reproduce in an pre-linguistic world), such knowledge has made it infinitely easier to stay in integrity and have lives and relationships that thrive, no matter what compost may come our way. As I say in my book, Thank God for Evolution – – as well as in my public programs: “Your greatest difficulties and the challenges you may be dealing with that stem from your evolved instincts, while not your fault, are most certainly your responsibility.”

    In any event, thanks again for the plug.


    ~ Michael

  4. NoBendedKnee said

    Being lead around by your, umm, instincts, disregarding the sorrow and pain the behavior causes others is a major symptom of the narcissistic personality and excuses are their stock in trade, thus, this ‘genetic’ excuse will just be one more for the mentally ill.

    I think, genetic research is great for understanding our primal urges and propensities but the discoveries are not “the devil made me do it” rational as some would hope.

    Nice article. Thanks

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