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Excuse Me, Your Allele Is Showing: the Science of Infidelity

Why are powerful men sleeping with their maids, chasing workers around naked in New York hotel rooms, posting pictures of their genitals on popular, easily accessed social networks? In light of recent sex scandals involving rich French troll Dominic...
June 17, 2011, 9:35pm

Why are powerful men sleeping with their maids, chasing workers around naked in New York hotel rooms, posting pictures of their genitals on popular, easily accessed social networks? In light of recent sex scandals involving rich French troll Dominic Strauss-Kahn, rich American nerd-waif Anthony Weiner, and rich Austrian giant Arnold Schwarzenegger, some might ask "Is there a gene for stupid?" Turns out, probably yes. Also, it is probably what made these goons so powerful in the first place.

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The neurotransmitter dopamine, like adrenaline, is awesome. As the unit activating our pleasure centers, dopamine is the very stuff upon which our boats are floated, driving our urges and directing our attention. Hand of poker won, cheeseburger consumed, line snorted, sex had, dopamine released. #Winning.

Mutations in the genetic code comprising dopamine receptor D4, called DRD4, have been targeted in recent years as a culprit behind addiction, ADHD, schizophrenia and, most recently, infidelity. A 2009 study based at Binghamton University, using self-reporting surveys from 181 young adults, revealed that individuals with DRD4 repetitions of seven times or more on a chromosome, regardless of gender, presented significantly increased instances of sexual promiscuity and infidelity compared to individuals with less extravagant chains of the same allele (DNA codings that determine certain traits).

DRD4's wildly sensationalist mandate may also put thrill-seeking in the same genetic neck of the woods as sexual promiscuity and ADHD, which makes a lick of sense in relation to the actions of the powerful. Anthony Wiener might think he wants to show his bag to teenagers on Twitter, but what if what he really wants is the reward of doing something risky, doing something strictly for himself, something dangerous?

Anyone who's seen the twentysomething Aaaaanold of Pumping Iron contentedly chomping on a cigar braying "I'm coming all the time" is surely not surprised to hear that he is a man of enyclopedic infidelities. The neurochemical reward of being elected to office early in one's career or winning the title of Mr. Universe isn't dissimilar from the neurochemical reward of getting lucky. In the same way that symptoms of ADHD in children may be of use in adulthood (and do not preclude intelligence or even genius), the same urges that drove Weiner to pursue public office are likely at play in his totally ridiculous desire for complete strangers to look at his junk in low-resolution.

Of course, research into the manifestations of DRD4 mutations has yet to be brutally, excruciatingly thorough. One-hundred eighty-one college students self-reporting is a step in the right direction, but the drawbacks of self-reportage cause gaps in findings. Binghamton subjects didn't have to answer if the questions made them uncomfortable, and what could make one less comfortable than sharing potentially shameful, self-incriminating information?

Maybe the likelihood that a subject will honestly answer questions about things that make him/her a theoretically lousy person could be increased if the subject had nothing to lose, like for instance if the subject was knee-deep in a double-blinding media shitstorm. Wiener and others like him would do society a greater benefit submitting themselves to scientific research than submitting themselves to (possibly taxpayer-funded) rehab vacations. Researchers could potentially find parallel socioeconomic factors in hang-gliding fitness junkie Congressman Aaron Schock. Or maybe they'd find more of the same genetic misguidance.

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