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Scientists Suspect Genetic Underpinnings to Human Monogamy
A groundbreaking study from a Harvard University team suggests that monogamy may be genetically programmed within some mammals.
Evolutionary anthropology has for some time tried to understand what natural relationship pattern humans follow, if there is one. In his book Sex at Dawn psychologist Christopher Ryan posits that our prehistoric ancestors practiced multiple kinds of sexual and romantic relationships.
Monogamy became a social institution and one that made sense. Polygamy was the most common practice in the ancient world, but it made women a commodity. Rich men could keep multiple wives for themselves, whole harems, which caused a lot of strife among others, fighting over those who were left. Monogamy however, eliminated this problem and helped seed societal stability.
Even so, multiple societies around the world still practice different forms of pair bonding other than monogamy. Even the most strident monogamist will admit that marriage can prove difficult. There’s things like the four year slump and the seven year itch. Some evolutionary biologists have explained these as a cessation of the pair bonding process.
When we were hunter-gatherers, we traveled in tight-knit bands. Children were raised not only by their parents but by the whole village itself. When the child was old enough to be a little more independent, the parents were free to go off and explore other relationships.
According to renowned anthropologist and love expert Dr. Helen Fisher, there are actually four different, unique personality types when it comes to human love. Each is driven by a preponderance of a certain neurochemical or hormone in the person’s system. And some are better suited for monogamy than others.
In this case, nature may have made some people naturally polyamorous and others monogamous, to ensure stability for raising children, while at other times, ensuring variety within the gene pool and to that end, aiding our survival.
Is there an evolutionary basis for cheating? Getty Images.
Now, a groundbreaking study published in the journal Nature suggests that monogamy may be genetically programmed within us, or at least in mice, to ensure offspring receive proper care. “Parental care is essential for the survival of mammals, yet the mechanisms underlying its evolution remain largely unknown,” the authors write. Researchers at Harvard University studied two breeds of mice to arrive at this conclusion.
The first was the oldfield mouse (Peromyscus polionotus), one of those rare monogamous animals. Only 5% of mammals practice monogamy. Both sexes of this breed are known to be doting parents. They will, together, build an elaborate nest for their young and lick or clean them.
The second breed was the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), who are promiscuous by nature, and look upon their oldfield cousins as helicopter parents. In most mammalian relationships, males mate with as many females as possible, but do little to help raise the offspring. What researchers discovered, by looking at these two mouse breeds, was distinct genetic variations, which coincided with each type’s relationship style.
Hopi E. Hoekstra was the senior author of the study. She’s an evolutionary biologist. Though oldfield and deer mice won’t mate in the wild, if a male and female are put into the same tank alone together, they will. The resulting offspring are healthy. It was a variety of such hybrids that led them to understand whether or not parenting and relationship styles are genetically influenced.
Is monogamy in our nature, polyamory, or a combination? Getty Images.
In a previous study, Hoekstra and her team took the pups of each type of mouse and placed them in each other’s nest. Researchers wanted to know if the mice acted this way because they were raised to tend to pups, or if each breed of mouse had an instinctual parenting style. The latter proved true. Once this was found, researchers went about investigating each type’s DNA.
They bred five mice, who created 30 hybrid offspring. These were bred and another 769 hybrid mice were born. Researchers looked at the second and third generations, to see what type of parenting each took up. Some put in minimal effort, others were completely aloof, and others still attentive parents. This wide variety of styles allowed researchers to hone into the mice’s DNA and find the differences. They came upon 12 areas or loci which were associated with parental instincts.
Researchers found that one loci controlled just one behavior, nest building, while others controlled more than one. These loci varied in terms of sex. One loci when activated, seemed to make fathers more attentive, but not mothers. Unfortunately, each loci carries many genes, so it’s hard to hunt down which is responsible for what behavior.
In their most recent study, these Harvard researchers looked at one biochemical in particular, vasopressin. This is a bonding neurotransmitter in many species, including rats and humans. Deer mice contain three times the amounts as oldfield mice, however. To find out what role it played, researchers injected oldfield mice with it. Instead of elaborate nests, they acted more like deer mice, and made simple ones. Yet, in terms of care, they were still doting parents.
Studies show that some may be better suited for monogamy than others. Getty Images.
According to their genetic research, the vasopressin gene only accounts for 6.7% of nest building instincts in male oldfield mice, and 2.9% in females. This opens the door to whether or not human pair bonding and parenting could be influenced by an instinct imprinted on our DNA. Though we’re a far cry from mice, we share many of the same neurotransmitters and hormones, along with other mammals.
Differences in biochemical makeup or neurotransmitters may signal how a species cares for its young, and whether it’s monogamous, promiscuous, or a mixture of the two. In exploring other species and working our way up, we may find out more about ourselves, even what relationship pattern or parenting style works best. Perhaps, we’ll find the genetic underpinnings of Dr. Fisher’s theory.
To learn what similar genetic underpinnings have so far been identified in our species, click here:
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Stress and anxiety therapist Dr. Amelia Aldao suggests waiting 60 seconds before reacting to a stressor, giving your rational mind time to catch up to your emotions.
- Stress is a complex defense mechanism that we experience in relation to either internal or external threats.
- Self-inflicted stress is stress we inflict upon ourselves with our emotional and behavioral responses to certain situations. An example of self-inflicted stress would be your car breaking down on the morning of an important meeting because your "check engine" let had been on, but you ignored it.
- There are a few ways for you to cope with self-inflicted internal and external stressors, put forth by researchers and therapists.
What is “self-inflicted stress”?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg3NDgwMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5ODUyNzQ5M30.plH9mP77sPf3-un8g7KNIU84ad6zVgKIbQONcopUGK0/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="ee733" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0ba6b904a1542563f02dfe038f18fe50" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="concept of stress businesswoman feeling stressed at her desk" />
Stress is a complex defence mechanism that each of us experiences differently depending on our personality and the circumstances of the situation.
Photo by Kite_rin on Shutterstock<p>Stress is an adaptation of a living organism to internal or external threats. It's a complex defense mechanism that each of us experiences in vastly different ways depending on various factors such as personality, causal factors, and circumstance.</p><p>Studies show that positive emotions (happiness, comfort, pleasure, etc) allow us to consider a larger set of options in order to make faster, smarter decisions. The opposite is also true - unpleasant emotions (anger, stress, fear, etc.) overwhelm our rational minds and impact our behavior in ways that damage our ability to make smart, rational choices. </p><p>Stressors can be either external or internal, and this greatly impacts how we react to that stressful situation. </p><p><strong>Examples of self-inflicted internal stress (stress we inflict on ourselves by how we manage expectations, time, relationships, and emotions) can include:</strong> </p><ul><li>Putting pressure on yourself to excel at something within an unrealistic timespan.</li><li>Negative self-talk after not being able to complete something (realistic or not). </li><li>Fear of public speaking, thinking you're going to make a mistake in front of everyone even if you're prepared.</li><li>Not having enough time in the day to complete your "to-do" list and having thoughts of not being good enough because you didn't complete an unrealistic goal. </li><li>An "all or nothing" attitude (example: if I can't get everything on my list done today I just won't do anything at all." </li></ul><p>In more serious situations, these kinds of internal stressors can lead to feelings of anxiety and/or depression. </p><p><strong>Examples of self-inflicted external stress can include:</strong> </p><ul><li>Planning a vacation in a time of budget cuts at work only to discover that your salary has been lowered in a time where you've spent more money than normal. </li><li>Procrastinating to study for an upcoming exam or presentation and then staying up all night the day before. </li><li>Ignoring the "check engine" light in your car only to have it break down in a moment of urgency (picking a child up from school, on your way to a meeting, etc). </li></ul>
How to manage your self-inflicted stress<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg3NDgwMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTUxNjY2MX0.UvFSTWkXcFi4qIqv1moPKac3KIPJugywdeSePEw2Upo/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C103%2C0%2C1&height=700" id="c0a57" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6a683cb20ee3a37aa850b32b39560db9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="concept stress man squeezing happy face stress ball" />
A tip: wait one full minute before doing anything in reaction to the stressor.
Photo by Obak on Shutterstock<p>Over time, stress can damage areas of your life (adding even more stress) such as you having trouble sleeping, losing your appetite, losing interest in daily activities due to stress. Symptoms that you are stressed can include things like irritability, headaches/migraines, stomach pains, and unbalanced emotions.</p> <p>How do you cope with stress? There are a few different methods that are specifically designed to help you overcome self-inflicted stressors in your life. </p> <p><strong>Take a full 60 seconds of pause before doing anything.<br></strong>The 60 Second Method is simple: wait one minute before doing anything in reaction to the stressor. It can be as simple as that, according to OCD, stress, anxiety and depression therapist <a href="https://www.togethercbt.com/groups" target="_blank">Dr. Amelia Aldao</a>.</p> <p>"In particular," she explains in <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sweet-emotion/202003/the-60-second-approach-managing-emotions" target="_blank">this Psychology Today article</a>, "don't follow what the emotion is telling you to do. Don't send that angry text, don't decline the invitation to present at work, don't tell your potential date you're too busy this week…" </p> <p>While this is extremely difficult for some people, pausing before reacting to a stressful situation gives your "rational brain" the ability to catch up. The best thing you can do is "stay with your emotion", according to Dr. Aldao, "but don't act it out." </p> <p>Experiencing the emotions is a good thing, we should never ignore how certain situations (even stressful ones) make us feel - but acting from a place of pure emotion (instead of thinking rationally about a proper action to follow the situation) can be detrimental to our mental health. </p> <p>According to Dr. Aldao, by the end of these 60 seconds, the intensity of your initial emotional reaction to the stressor should have somewhat subsided, allowing you to act from a place of rationality than a place of hasty emotion. </p> <p><strong>Prioritize your schedule and manage your time in a realistic way to motivate yourself.<br></strong>When it comes to internal stressors, much of the time we inflict these upon ourselves with ever-growing to-do lists and agendas that seem impossible to get through. This, in a way, is setting ourselves up for failure, because we aren't giving ourselves realistic goals that can encourage us to keep going.</p> <p>Instead, what you're doing, is designing a system that will make you feel more stressed the more work you do because even if you complete the work, it will seem as though you're falling behind. </p> <p>Instead, you should operate in a prioritization system. This can be done by splitting your to-do list into categories such as immediate (needs to be done in the next 3 hours), average (needs to be done sometime today) and non-critical (can easily be done tomorrow or the next day). </p> <p><strong>Ask for help and accept that you might not be able to accomplish everything on your own (or risk falling apart).<br></strong><a href="https://www.ruthklein.com/" target="_blank">Productivity coach Ruth Klein</a>, who has also authored a book called Time Management Secrets for Working Women, explains that you should start by asking yourself what the top three priorities for the day are. If there are more than three main things, delegate some of your work to someone else or push back deadlines if you can. It takes courage to admit you can't do it all, but ultimately that might be your best option.</p> <p>Waiting too long to ask for help, according to Klein, will eventually lead us into an "overwhelmed crisis" which tends to zap us of all energy and motivation. </p> <p><strong>Acknowledge that some (if not most) of your stress may be self-inflicted and make changes to fix that.<br></strong>While there are external stressors that we have little to no control over, there are lots of times when the stress we feel is self-inflicted. And when stress is self-inflicted it can also be self-solved, even when that feels impossible.</p> <p>When we are managing self-inflicted stress, it can be extremely difficult to see outside of our bubble of worry. We are focused on trying to beat the stress because we don't want to feel stressed - it seems like a solution. But if your stress isn't motivating you to get things done (and is instead actually hindering you from being productive) it's time for you to change how you react to your stress. </p> <p><em>"What can I do to lessen my stress right now?" </em></p> <p><a href="https://www.lessstresscoach.com/2016/12/21/do-you-suffer-from-self-inflicted-stress/" target="_blank">Jamie Sussel Turner</a> (otherwise known as "The Less Stress Coach") explains that asking yourself this question and acknowledging some of the harmful behaviors and emotions you're feeling that are negatively impacting your stress levels can help us re-evaluate the importance of the things we're trying to do. </p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Paul Krugman on the Virtues of Selfishness<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7ZtAkm6C" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="828936bf6953080e9018307354c0c02b"> <div id="botr_7ZtAkm6C_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7ZtAkm6C-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> The Nobel Prize-winning economist on the virtues of selfishness.
Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
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