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How your genes could affect the quality of your marriage

How important is it to consider a romantic partner's genetic profile before getting married?

How important is it to consider a romantic partner's genetic profile before getting married?


It is logical to think that genetic factors may underlie many traits already used by matching sites - like personality and empathy - which many assume could promote initial chemistry and long-term potential in specific couples. So it is perhaps not surprising that there are now websites that combine genetic testing and matchmaking.

But does matching intimate partners on the basis of specific genes have any scientific foundation? Studies have shown that genetically identical twins, raised separately, rate the overall quality of their marriages similarly, suggesting some enduring genetic contribution to marital life. However, the specific genes that are relevant to marriage, and why, remain a mystery.

As such, predicting marital compatibility on the basis of specific combinations of genetic profiles rests on tenuous scientific footing. Currently, researchers are just beginning to identify the genes that may be associated with marital bliss and through what processes.

Why study the effects of genes on marriage?

As a scientist and clinical psychologist, I have a longstanding interest in identifying the factors that contribute to a happy marriage, such as how couples manage conflict. My interest in exploring genetic determinants, however, developed more recently.

Genes are segments of DNA that encode a particular trait. A gene can take on various forms called alleles, and the combination of the two alleles inherited from both parents represent one's genotype. Differences in genotype correspond to observable differences within that trait across individuals.

Though genes underlie individual differences in a broad range of characteristics believed to be relevant to marriage, I am specifically interested in the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene. Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love" hormone, appears to play a significant role in emotional attachment. For example, oxytocin floods a new mother at the birth of a child and it spikes during sex. Therefore, I reasoned that the gene that regulates oxytocin, OXTR, might be a good one to study in the context of marriage, as it is frequently implicated in how we become attached to other humans. Moreover, OXTR has been associated with a range of phenomena linked to human social behavior, including trust and sociability.

Of greatest interest to me is that the OXTR gene has been linked with physiological responses to social support and traits believed to be critical to support processes, like empathy. Considered alongside findings that the quality of social support is a major determinant of overall marital quality, the evidence implied that variations on the OXTR gene could be tethered to later marital quality by influencing how partners support each other. To test this hypothesis, I pulled together a multidisciplinary team of scientists including psychologists with additional expertise in marital research, a geneticist and a neuroendocrinologist specializing in oxytocin.

Together our team recruited 79 different-sex married couples to participate in our study. We then asked each partner to identify an important personal problem – unrelated to the marriage – to discuss with their spouse for 10 minutes.

These discussions were recorded and later coded according to how each partner solicited and provided “positive" support by scoring elements like problem-solving and active listening. Couples responded separately to several questionnaires including a measure of perceived quality of the support they received during the interaction. Each person also provided saliva samples that our team analyzed to determine which two alleles of the OXTR gene each person carried.

Genetic variation and marital quality

Based on prior evidence, we focused our attention on two specific locations on the OXTR gene: rs1042778 and rs4686302. As expected, higher quality social support was associated with marital quality. Also, genetic variation at each OXTR site for both husbands and wives was linked with how partners behaved during the support discussions.

However, individuals did not appear more or less satisfied with the support they received based on differences in the positive skills their partners used during the interaction.

Rather, we found that husbands with two copies of the T allele at a specific location on OXTR (rs1042778) perceived that their partners provided lower quality support. This was regardless of whether his partner's support skills were strong or weak.

To us, this implied that husbands with the TT genotype had greater difficulty interpreting their respective wife's behavior as supportive. This is consistent with other findings implicating this same genotype in social-cognitive deficits, as well as autism.

Notably, the husband and wife in couples also reported being less satisfied with their marriage overall, when compared to those with different combinations of alleles. This suggests that couples in which the husband carries two copies of the T allele were worse off, in part, because these men had trouble perceiving their wife's behavior as supportive – a notion that our statistical analysis ultimately supported.

Practical implications

Do we have the evidence necessary to start screening potential husbands for specific combinations of genes that seem harmful to marriage?

I would not recommend doing so for a few reasons. Foremost is that genes can influence a broad range of characteristics, which may be detrimental to a marriage in some respects but beneficial in others. Although we found that having two copies of the T allele seems to be a liability in the context of social support, exploratory analyses revealed that this combination appeared to also confer some positive influence on the marriage. The exact mechanism remains unclear, but we speculate that being less sensitive to social nuance may be protective in other areas of marriage by, for example, blunting hostile exchanges during disagreements.

More to the point, assuming that a single gene can make or break a marriage underestimates the complexity of genetics and marriage. It is possible that certain genes may be more or less detrimental depending on the rest of a partner's genetic profile. However, there is currently no published data on which to rest any type of proposed match. So, ruling out prospective husbands on the basis of variations within or across genes doesn't make much sense.

Nevertheless, there are still practical implications to our current findings. Researchers have shown that social support from intimate partners can buffer the deleterious effects of stress on mental and physical health. To the extent that particular genotypes impair an individual's ability to feel supported, that person may be more susceptible to the effects of stress. Thus, screening men for the TT genotype on OXTR could assist in identifying those at risk for stress-related problems. In addition, future research may highlight how to tailor the delivery of social support in ways that can benefit these individuals.

There are also several other potentially relevant locations on OXTR, as well as other genes that may be relevant to relationships. Our study provides a template for approaching the study of marital genetics.The Conversation

Richard Mattson, Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies in Psychology, Binghamton University, State University of New York

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

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  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
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  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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