Do Cheaters Have a Genetic Excuse?

If you partner goes astray and has an affair, and you find out, you're probably expecting a certain reaction--like remorse, maybe, or genuine sadness. But how about if he blames his genes?

If cheaters want a new excuse for their actions, they may have found just the ticket. A new study from Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York says that individuals with a particular variant of a gene are more likely to be unfaithful.

The researchers, led by Binghamton University's Justin Garcia, found that the feel-good hormone, dopamine, may be implicated in some people's tendency to be promiscuous. It appears that a dopamine receptor called D4 polymorphism, or DRD4 gene, could affect the brain chemistry in susceptible individuals and make them more likely to be unfaithful. The DRD4 gene already is linked to a propensity for alcohol use and to gambling.

"What we found was that individuals with a certain variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to have a history of uncommitted sex, including one-night stands and acts of infidelity," Garcia told The Times of India. "The motivation seems to stem from a system of pleasure and reward, which is where the release of dopamine comes in. In cases of uncommitted sex, the risks are high, the rewards substantial and the motivation variable--all elements that ensure a dopamine 'rush'."

For the research, nearly 200 college students were asked to fill out questionnaires about their sexual habits and other habits, too--like smoking and a tendency to be a risk taker. Garcia's researchers tested the volunteers' DNA to learn which form of dopamine receptor the students had inherited.

What they found was that the students with the DNA variation were two times as likely as the other students to say they were promiscuous and had one-night stands. And half the students with the genetic variation said they'd been unfaithful, versus 22 percent of the volunteers without the genetic variation.

But blaming infidelity on a so-called "cheating gene" does not make sense, says Lillian Glass, Ph.D., author of Toxic Men. One of the most common causes of infidelity and having an affair is boredom with the relationship, she says.

"There is also the desire to feel attractive to a member of the opposite sex and then take it all the way," she says. "For some people, it's rebellion. Some people have such a miserable time in a toxic relationship that they look at cheating as a way out."

And for some individuals, Glass says, cheating can be rationalized away with the "Life's so short, why not take all the spoils?" mentality. She advises couples tempted to cheat to take a close look at their relationship and to get help if necessary. But, she advises, don't blame it on your genes. "The whole idea of having a genetic predisposition to cheat is just kind of an excuse," she says

Sociologist BJ Gallagher, author of Why Don't I Do the Things I Know Are Good for Me?, agrees that blaming the propensity to cheat on one's genes doesn't make sense.

"We are always responsible for our actions and our behavior," she says. "We have free will and can consciously choose to override our hormonal, biological and neurological impulses to cheat."

While brain chemistry may play a role in people's behavior, "We are not victims of our biology, our DNA," Gallagher says. "We are responsible creatures and we have the resources, like support groups or a loving family, to help us do the right thing."


"Promiscuity may be in your genes," 25 December 2010. The Times of India