When you can bet he’s going to cheat on you

Abstract: Mother nature has provided some clues to your partner’s possible infidelity…

For women concerned with the fidelity of their partner, history has provided them with little in the way of counsel. They have had to rely largely on religious texts and cultural prerogatives; which, given their historical foundation, have been largely skewed towards the preferences of men. But now women have a new tool in the fight against infidelity. It’s called an ‘ear bud’.

If one were to find a phrase that accurately encapsulates our current technological zeitgeist, it would be ‘there’s an app for that’. Our modern lifestyle relies so much on connectivity and instant gratification that we are becoming increasingly reliant on the interfaces on our phones and computers that give us direct access to fulfilment.

If we’re looking for the latest news, we simply hit a button. If we want to tell someone something, we ‘tap an app’. We now have access to an unprecedented amount of information, which is filtered, focused and only a fingertip away.

But the same can also be said for science, specifically medicine, where questions are increasingly being answered with ‘there’s a gene for that’. This is not only true for physical characteristics such as a predisposition to male pattern baldness; it’s just as relevant for inclinations towards certain types of personality and behaviour.

In fact, hidden away in every one of your cells is a clue towards whether or not you’re likely to be unfaithful. You need a very powerful microscope to see it, but it can be secured with something as simple as an ear bud.

Quick lesson in neurology: dopamine is a chemical in our brain that helps transmit signals between brain cells. It is a neurotransmitter, which means it acts almost like a switch, helping to regulate the actions of a brain cell. Dopamine serves many functions, including facilitating physical bodily movements; which is why a lack of it can result in the physical and mental disorientation associated with Parkinson’s Disease.

But it is also associated with the rather complex system of risk and reward. A burst of dopamine can give you the emotional rush you experience when you win at the slot machine; or immediately after the birth of your child. It can wash away the pain of labour, so it’s a very powerful chemical indeed.

However, whether or not the cells in our brain react to the presence of dopamine depends on what’s known as the cell’s ‘receptors’. If a molecule of dopamine is a cricket ball, these receptors are like a wicket keeper’s gloves. Once a cell’s receptor recognises that dopamine is present (or ‘catches’ it), it signals the brain cell to react accordingly. Multiply this a billion times in a fraction of a second and the brain gets a euphoric rush. Howzat?!

But wait, there’s more. Scientists have recently discovered a gene – or more correctly a variation thereof – that we inherit from either our mother or father, which influences the effectiveness of these receptors.

End of lesson. So what does this mean? It means that the nature of our compulsion to seek the thrill of reward seems to have a genetic determinant, or put more brutally: we’re not completely in control of what we find arousing.

I know what you’re thinking: “is this finally where the sex bit comes in?” Yes; and thank you for your patience.

All this came to a head with the release of research paper titled “Associations between Dopamine D4 Receptor Gene Variation with Both Infidelity and Sexual Promiscuity”. I’ll trim away the graphs, maths and research terminology, and get to the meaty bit: the researchers found a correlation between a specific variation of this gene and sexual behaviour. People with a certain variation of this gene were more likely to be promiscuous (have sex with numerous partners) or unfaithful (have uncommitted sex with someone other than their partner).

It seems the specific variation of the gene meant people had a lowered capacity to respond to dopamine, and therefore sought out activities that would encourage heightened levels of dopamine – in a way, riskier behaviour.

And this is the key that allows women to get a notion of whether or not their partner will cheat.

You see, this ‘riskier behaviour’ isn’t restricted to sex. It manifests itself in other forms of behaviour associated with heightened levels of risk and reward, such as gambling, drug use and alcoholism.

Believe it or not, it’s also associated with seemingly benign behaviour such as impulsiveness, political liberalism and, believe it or not, a passion for horror films.

What this means is the following: a DNA test through a simple swab of saliva may hold the secret to whether or not your partner will cheat on you, and a clue may lie in seemingly unconnected behaviour.

So, if your partner is a stamp-collecting teetotaler and enjoys Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy movies, you’re most probably safe. But if he has this thing for gore on film and hanging out at the casino, and he votes for the ANC, then you’d better whip out that ear bud when he starts snoring his head off tonight.

Originally published in The Sunday Tribune, 8 April 2012