If comedian Flip Wilson were still with us, maybe he’d be saying, “My genes made me do it.” But it wouldn’t be as funny. Or as accurate.
One of the most acclaimed novels of all time, “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, deals with the all-too-human failure of infidelity.
Tolstoy painstakingly draws out the circumstances and consequences of his characters’ failings. And he delves into the interior life of his doomed protagonist. For instance, Tolstoy tells us that the more Anna grew disenchanted with her husband, the larger his ears looked to her.
As it turns out, Tolstoy needn’t have bothered with all this detail. All he needed to do was to wait for science to reduce the conundrum of infidelity to a simple acronym: DNA.
A study published earlier this year in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior analyzed data from nearly 7,400 Finnish twins and siblings “who had been in a monogamous relationship for at least one year.” The study found that nearly 10 percent of men and more than 6 percent of women admitted to cheating.
Researchers also found that “identical twins correlated strongly with one [another] in terms of unfaithfulness, while fraternal twins and siblings did not.” Since identical twins share 100 percent of their DNA, and siblings share only half, they concluded that “the clear finding is that an individual’s genetic makeup in general influences how likely he or she is to cheat.”
The lead researcher, Brendan Zietsch of the University of Queensland, told the Washington Post that “while there may be a clear genetic influence on our tendency to cheat, there is no such thing as a single ‘infidelity gene.’”
I can guarantee you that this is not how this study, or to be more precise, the story about this study, will be understood by the average person. To paraphrase Lady Gaga, we’ll soon be hearing, “I’m not a cheater, I was born this way.”
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