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(glowing) prairie voles illuminate the human condition
January 9, 2010 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Monogamouse
Prairie voles have many vasopressin receptors in the reward centres of their brains. It seems as though these are wired up in a way that causes the animal to take pleasure from monogamy. (previously 1|2)
posted by kliuless (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
It's been a long time since I took evolution courses, but one thing that does stick out in my mind is that "monogamous" is not a clearly defined, single behaviour. Many species have been labeled monogamous because they have enduring pair bonds. However, their offspring is not necessarily genetically related to both parents. In other words, many "monogamous" species are pair-bonded but not sexually monogamous. One of the things that we learned from this is to be careful not to anthropomorphize animal behaviours and then extrapolate meaningful connections between those behaviours and ours.

One study has already shown that it is possible to inject a viral vector for the vasopressin receptor into the brains of the fickle meadow voles and make them better partners and parents.

Clearly this author and I did not take the same lessons.
posted by carmen at 8:54 AM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


One study has already shown that it is possible to inject a viral vector for the vasopressin receptor into the brains of the fickle meadow voles and make them better partners and parents. It may be some time before such interventions are available for human males, but women can always live in hope.

Stay classy, Economist.
posted by shaun uh at 9:02 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


carmen: ... In other words, many "monogamous" species are pair-bonded but not sexually monogamous. One of the things that we learned from this is to be careful not to anthropomorphize animal behaviours and then extrapolate meaningful connections between those behaviours and ours. ...

This is pretty much how many humans are too. As I understand it, before the "romantic love" fad of the 19th century this was considered normal.
posted by idiopath at 9:04 AM on January 9, 2010


Fun fact: vasopressin, otherwise known as antidiuretic hormone or ADH, is a close evolutionary homologue of oxytocin, a major lovey-dovey pair-bonding / don't-kill-your-newborn-children-and-eat-them hormone in humans, and it's released from nearly the same spot in the posterior pituitary (and is manufactured by very closely related groups of cells in the hypothalamus).
posted by killdevil at 9:05 AM on January 9, 2010


Oh, I meant to add - I am pretty sure it is not just "many" monogamous species that pair bond but are not sexually monogamous, it is just about all of them, most of the exceptions being the ones that don't live long enough to mate again and the ones that parasitically attach themselves to the partner
posted by idiopath at 9:08 AM on January 9, 2010


yeah, the "women can always live in hope" line is pretty lame ... but that title -- 'monogamouse' -- pretty much makes up for it.
posted by CitizenD at 9:08 AM on January 9, 2010


One of the things that we learned from this is to be careful not to anthropomorphize animal behaviours and then extrapolate meaningful connections between those behaviours and ours.

Actually, and following on idiopath's point, we can also take the lesson not to anthropomorphize *human* behaviors. We're all animals. Our only difference is that we think we aren't, which, I grant, is a remarkable adaptation (culture, etc.).

Of course, while we're all animals, only a few of us can be Tigers.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:13 AM on January 9, 2010


Also, "monogamouse" is a classic. Thanks for the chuckle. I can see it as a comic strip now.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:14 AM on January 9, 2010


fourcheesemac: Of course, while we're all animals, only a few of us can be Tigers.

when i turn 40 tomorrow, i get to start being a cougar! rawr!
posted by CitizenD at 9:17 AM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


idiopath, I think you're right on the "many" vs "all", but I didn't feel like pulling out my old textbooks to confirm, and I'm not sure if there are one or two species that break the mould, so I decided to go for the less absolute statement. In particular, I don't know if this species is being targeted because they actually do show sexual monogamy, which would be quite a fascinating thing on its own.

And of course it's true for humans that we tend not to be sexually monogamous even in pair bonds, and that that has been considered to be normal in the past and in the present in various cultures. But I guess the point I was making is that the meaning of the word is ambiguous. The author of the piece seems to mean it in terms of sexual monogamy, given the flippant comments of the last paragraph. Suggesting that this species is sexually monogamous is either totally misleading in terms of what kinds of questions we could answer with this research, or a very fascinating and important fact that needs to be made explicit.
posted by carmen at 9:19 AM on January 9, 2010


This sort of makes me wonder if, sometime this decade, I'll walk to the fridge for a late snack and see a bunch of glowing mice scurry under the cupboard.
posted by HFSH at 9:26 AM on January 9, 2010


It's been a long time since I took evolution courses, but one thing that does stick out in my mind is that "monogamous" is not a clearly defined, single behaviour.

Yeah, I remember reading something like this as well. So, I headed of to wikipedia and they say, biologists delineate between social monogamy, sexual monogamy, and genetic monogamy.
"Social monogamy refers to a male and female's social living arrangement (e.g., shared use of a territory, behaviour indicative of a social pair, and/or proximity between a male and female) without inferring any sexual interactions or reproductive patterns. In humans, social monogamy equals monogamous marriage.

Sexual monogamy is defined as an exclusive sexual relationship between a female and a male based on observations of sexual interactions.

Finally, the term genetic monogamy is used when DNA analyses can confirm that a female-male pair reproduce exclusively with each other.

A combination of terms indicates examples where levels of relationships coincide, e.g., sociosexual and sociogenetic monogamy describe corresponding social and sexual, and social and genetic monogamous relationships, respectively."
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:31 AM on January 9, 2010


This is pretty much how many humans are too. As I understand it, before the "romantic love" fad of the 19th century this was considered normal.

Wait, are you saying we can't call Abraham Lincoln a hetrosexual?
posted by orthogonality at 9:40 AM on January 9, 2010


One of my favorite vole headlines was from when they discovered that prairie voles do cheat-- about one third of the babies in any nest aren't from the dad who is rearing them. From Nature: Monogamous vole in love-rat shock!

Oxytocin is fascinating stuff-- my article for New Scientist on it is here.

Vasopressin is not just lovey-dovey-- while it helps bond males to females, it also makes males territorial and aggressive.
posted by Maias at 10:05 AM on January 9, 2010


It may be some time before such interventions are available for human males, but women can always live in hope.

You don't have to go back particularly far in literary history to discover that women were once considered the fickle ones. And really, it doesn't make sense once you think about it for two seconds: If women are naturally monogamous, why the need for the apparatus of marriage and other forms of controlling women's sexual behaviour the world over?
posted by jokeefe at 2:10 PM on January 9, 2010


If women are naturally monogamous, why the need for the apparatus of marriage and other forms of controlling women's sexual behaviour the world over?

To rein in, to a degree at least, men from their excesses. To encourage men's taking responsibility for their children.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:58 PM on January 9, 2010


Monogamouse

Da-deeee-da-dee-dee!
posted by JHarris at 6:02 PM on January 9, 2010


"Prairie voles have many vasopressin receptors in the reward centres of their brains." It's funny (funny unusual, not funny ha-ha) how long it takes you to process the difference between what you're actually reading and what you were expecting to have been reading after having first sped through that sentence and thought you'd read, "Prairie voles have many velociraptors in the reward centres of their brains."
posted by Mike D at 7:03 PM on January 9, 2010


If women are naturally monogamous, why the need for the apparatus of marriage and other forms of controlling women's sexual behaviour the world over?

And because it's a really easy way to control the men in a society. Once you've locked down the women by controlling their sexuality, it's easier to persuade the men to rally against an invented enemy, or tithe cash, or build your church, and so on.

It works with us, and it would probably work with chimps. Much easier than putting a padlock on the fridge or a policeman on every street corner; you just make your subjects put padlocks and policemen in their own heads.

Who cares if women have to stay at home / cover their faces / take care of the children / not go out unescorted / not make eye contact with strangers / don't have access to birth control / etc.? We're protecting them and the honor of the family. Or "family values".

It's even better when you recruit the most of women into policing each other's sexuality. That helps make it generational.

-----------------------------------------------

Not to say that marriage isn't useful to the couple, oftentimes.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:55 AM on January 10, 2010


vasopressin, otherwise known as antidiuretic hormone or ADH, is a close evolutionary homologue of oxytocin

Vasopressin is not just lovey-dovey -- while it helps bond males to females, it also makes males territorial and aggressive.

yea, fascinating stuff:
It is easy to imagine that in societies where trust pays off, generation after generation, the more trusting individuals would have more progeny and the oxytocin-promoting genes would become more common in the population. If conditions should then change, and the society be engulfed by strife and civil warfare for generations, oxytocin levels might fall as the paranoid produced more progeny.
like i wonder if this might give new meaning to chemical/biological (non)warfare... if it hasn't already! (been slipped into the water supply ;)
posted by kliuless at 6:54 AM on January 10, 2010


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