Michael Stebbins

Most of us know what love is (or at least we know what it feels like), but what makes us love and bond to one person is a mystery. There has been a lot of bile regurgitated over the issue of defining marriage and love, specifically on the issue surrounding whether marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman or whether gay couples should be afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples. Besides the pile of civil rights issues that drive the debate, there are some significant biological issues that have been raised about monogamy, and whether there is a biological reason why so many marriages fail. The divorce rate would seem to imply that there is at least the possibility that not all humans are biologically designed to be monogamous for life. Many blame this increasing trend of serial monogamy on immoral values being accepted by society. But it would appear as though a lot of what is being seen is not a case of immoral pursuits or a lack of value on the family unit, but an acceptance that things go wrong in marriages and people grow apart. Is this a reflection of biology?

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1 Response to Michael Stebbins

  1. shinichi says:

    Sex, Drugs and DNA: Science’s Taboos Confronted

    … and then there’s sex

    by Michael Stebbins

    Monogamy is a peculiar behavior in the animal world. The great majority of animals do not practice it, including most primates. However, there are number of notable examples, including some birds, primates and the prairie vole, a rodent that usually mates for life. It is interesting that there are several species of vole in the US, but only one of them is monogamous. Scientists studying the prairie vole found that monogamy, which they refer to as ‘pair bonding’, is regulated by a combination of very small proteins. One of these small proteins, oxytocin, is routinely given to women in labor because it stimulates contraction of the uterus. In female voles, oxytocin is essential for the formation of monogamous bonds with males. As it turns out, this is also the case for mother-infant bonding in sheep. In males, another protein, called vasopressin, seems to be the culprit. Blocking the activity of oxytocin or vasopressin in female and male voles respectively blocks the ability of these animals to form monogamous bonds with mates. Both of these players need the neurotransmitter dopamine to act, and it is thought that the molecular mechanisms are similar to those that cause addiction. Yes: it is likely that the adage that you can be addicted to love (or more precisely to another person) is correct.

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