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Pulling Back The Curtain on Human Behavior

By Matthew Yglesias on December 4, 2010 at 2:30 pm

"Pulling Back The Curtain on Human Behavior"

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Hot new sex research that I’ll link to if only for the SEO benefits:

In a first of its kind study, a team of investigators led by Justin Garcia, a SUNY Doctoral Diversity Fellow in the laboratory of evolutionary anthropology and health at Binghamton University, State University of New York, has taken a broad look at sexual behavior, matching choices with genes and has come up with a new theory on what makes humans ‘tick’ when it comes to sexual activity. The biggest culprit seems to be the dopamine receptor D4 polymorphism, or DRD4 gene. Already linked to sensation-seeking behavior such as alcohol use and gambling, DRD4 is known to influence the brain’s chemistry and subsequently, an individual’s behavior. [...]

“What we found was that individuals with a certain variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to have a history of uncommitted sex, including one-night stands and acts of infidelity,” said Garcia. “The motivation seems to stem from a system of pleasure and reward, which is where the release of dopamine comes in. In cases of uncommitted sex, the risks are high, the rewards substantial and the motivation variable — all elements that ensure a dopamine ‘rush.’”

This kind of research is in its infancy, life is complicated, etc., so I wouldn’t take this particular finding to the bank. But clearly our knowledge of the genetic correlates of behavior is increasing and will only continue to increase in the future. The implications of this for public policy and society seem to me like they’ll be pretty profound.

People sometimes seem to think that you could forestall a Gattaca-esque scenario of genetic transparency through privacy laws. But it seems to me that you’d actually need to go stronger, and not only guarantee the right to not have your genetic information disclosed. To prevent the emergence of a near-universal disclosure equilibrium in a world of cheap genetic profiling over the long run, you’d need to ban voluntary disclosure. The mere fact that you don’t want a potential partner to know your DRD4 profile will tell her all she needs to know about you.

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