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mattbrowne's avatar

Hormones and neurotransmitters at work - Why are psychologists more interested in sexual polygamy than in the sexual monogamy?

Asked by mattbrowne (31600points) April 29th, 2009

From Wikipedia: The psychology of sexual monogamy deals with the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of human beings in sexually monogamous relationships. Psychological studies of sexual monogamy are sparse. Psychologists tend to be more interested in sexual non-monogamy, especially the causes and consequences of sexual infidelity. Psychological studies of social monogamy have relied heavily on observations of married couples. These studies have identified several important topics: relationship satisfaction, relationship duration, and attachment.

Should we take a closer look how certain hormones and neurotransmitters work? Are they the reason for individuals to pursue monogamous or polygamous relationships? Can we learn from prairie voles and create ‘pills’ to reduce the urge of men to cheat on their wives?

From Wikipedia (same article): Studies of pair bonding in animals have allowed scientists to identify several chemicals in the brain related to social monogamy. Three chemicals which have received a lot of attention are oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine. These chemicals have been strongly linked to socially monogamous pair bonding in prairie voles. Some species of prairie voles form socially monogamous pair bonds following sexual behavior. The pair bonds can be interrupted by injecting chemicals that interfere with oxytocin and vasopressin.

Although human brains contain oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine, human brains differ in many respects from animal brains. These differences may include changes in how oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine work. Neursocientists simply don’t understand the differences between human brains and animal brains well enough to say these chemicals play a role in human pair bonding. Yet, initial studies look promising. Oxytocin reduces stress in human beings. Oxytocin may facilitate attachment by reducing stress in response to the support and comfort offered by relationship partners. Oxytocin also increases trust in human beings. Oxytocin may facilitate attachment by increasing trust between relationship partners. Brain scans have shown that areas of the human brain containing oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine are activated by looking at pictures of attachment figures but not by looking at pictures of other people.

What is your opinion about monogamy and polygamy? Do you favor more research?

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7 Answers

lrk's avatar

I’m not sure why you’re suggesting that psychologists are more interested in sexual polygamy than sexual monogamy. The vast, vast majority of literature and research on romantic relationships in the field of psychology is focused on dyadic relationships.

From a neuroscience perspective, I’m still not sure I get where you’re coming from. The wikipedia article doesn’t know all that stuff about oxytocin through guesswork, after all.

qashqai's avatar

Because sexual poligamy is sexier than sexual monogamy.

mattbrowne's avatar

@lrk – I wasn’t suggesting this, see article: ‘Psychologists tend to be more interested in sexual non-monogamy, especially the causes and consequences of sexual infidelity’, so maybe @qashqai is correct: there’s a certain sensation related to infidelity and men having a wife and one or more mistresses. Good stuff for good stories, so to speak.

But seriously, what is the scientific explanation for the majority of human beings pursuing a monogamous relationship? A better survival strategy? And if yes, how does the brain accomplish this? Are the 3 mentioned chemicals the key to solving this puzzle? What do the prairie voles experiments tell us? I’m just exploring the subject and welcome a discussion about it. There are lot of controversial emotions related to the subject of polygamy. If it is natural, why bother? If not, what does this mean? Polygamy and mistresses an aberration that needs a cure?

tinyfaery's avatar

I believe the word polygamy has to do with marriage, a cultural construct not a physical or psychological state.

We are apes, not voles. Apes are not monogamous. Monogamy is part of the patriarchy and patrilineal descent, which was necessary
in the days before DNA.

mattbrowne's avatar

@tinyfaery – Some voles are monogamous others are not. In the same way some apes could be monogamous (us?).

fireside's avatar

@tinyfaery – so only men want committed relationships with one person? What do you mean by patriarchy and patrilineal descent? Monogamous relationship only server the purpose of know whose child someone is?

tinyfaery's avatar

Monogamy and female chastity can be traced back to a patriarchal and patrilineal culture. Knowing who the father was was needed to ensure (as much as possible) that patrilineal lines were preserved. Evolutinarily speaking, this is a result of caring for one’s (male) own offspring to ensure one’s (male) genes continue. There is never a problem knowing who the mother is.

Also, I have heard that DNA tests of the offspring of “momogamous” animals reveal that they are not so monogamous.

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