Of Voles and Men

colson2Researchers in Sweden recently announced what makes men good “husband material.” The key, they say, lies not in his religion, his morals, or even how much he loves his potential spouse—it’s how much he has in common with rodents.A team at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm studied “552 pairs of male twins enrolled in Sweden’s ongoing Twin and Offspring Study.” The subjects “were currently in a relationship that had lasted at least five years.” Researchers then used tests, and interviewed the subjects’ spouses where possible, to assess the subjects’ ability to “bond and commit.” The subjects were also tested for variants in what is known as the “vasopressin 1a gene.” Vasopressin is a peptide hormone thought to be “associated with species-typical patterns of social behavior” in many mammals. Their “main finding,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, was that there was an association between a particular gene variant and the ability to form “strong bonds” with their partners. They found that men carrying a variant called “334” scored “especially low” on a test called the “Partner Bonding Scale.” Translation: They find it harder to be faithful. Not only that—women married to men with this variant scored “lower . . . on levels of marital quality” than women married to men without it. What prompted the researcher to look for a correlation between the variant and fidelity? The behavior and neurochemistry of rodents—specifically voles, better known to Discovery Channel fans as “owl chow.” According to lead researcher Hasse Walum, “studies in voles have shown that the hormone vasopressin is released in the brain of males during mating.” Voles with higher levels of vasopressin are more likely to “stick around and mingle with the female after” a sexual encounter. As Dave Barry might write, I’m not making this up. Walum said that the gene variant cannot “with any real accuracy be used to predict how someone will behave in a future relationship.” And Dr. John Lucas of Cornell told the Washington Post, it was “unlikely to be a single gene [at work]” in male bonding. Instead, it was “likely to be multiple genes that are expressed incompletely and interact with the environment . . .” Genes, environment—what’s missing from the list? That’s right—religion, morality, virtue, culture. It’s difficult to imagine a better example of what’s known as “biological determinism.” It’s the idea behind Lucas telling the Postthat “genes help drive much of human behavior” and that “the individual palette of emotions and behaviors” is “probably ‘hard-wired’ by our genetics.” While he and others acknowledge a role for training, it’s too little, too late. In a culture that believes biology is destiny, telling people that something like fidelity is genetically driven is tantamount to calling it “optional.” But the apostle Paul, with his “thorn in the flesh,” knew that what was goodhad little to do what came “naturally.” It was a lesson that Christianity helped teach the West—that is, until the West decided that men were little more than animals—in this case, owl chow.
For Further Reading and Information
E.J. Mundell, “'Bonding Gene' Could Help Men Stay Married,” U.S. News, 1 September 2008. “Is Lover Boy a Louse? It May Be Genetic,” Wired, 3 September 2008. “‘Monogamy Gene’ Can’t Predict Behavior, Experts Say,” MSNBC, 3 September 2008.


Chuck Colson


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