New Study: People Are (Sometimes) Programmed to Stay Faithful

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When the topic of how evolutionary psychology and love comes up, it's usually because the conversation is veering in the direction of something like, "Oh, men sleep around because they're biologically programmed to sleep with as many women as possible. They can't help it!"

Oh, please. I've already discussed in my blog why that kind of thing is a lame excuse for cheating. (You could say I'm biologically programmed to smell people to see if they have good genes. It doesn't mean I go around sniffing them all day, do I?)

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But in a recent New York Times article, columnist John Tierney cites a few interesting new studies that indicate that some of us are, in fact, biologically inclined not to cheat.

One experiment, from Florida State University, discovered that although single men found the 21-year-old female at the center of the experiment most attractive during the most fertile stage of her menstrual cycle, the guys in relationships found her least attractive then! What's the explanation? It seems that the guys who had girlfriends sensed, at some level, that she was most attractive to them at that moment of the month. But then some other subconscious part of their brain intervened — in order to protect them from potentially upsetting the pleasure and security they derived from their relationship — and convinced them, somehow, she actually wasn't so sexy.

"This experiment was part of a new trend in evolutionary psychology to study 'relationship maintenance,'" Tierney writes. "Earlier research emphasized how evolution primed us to meet and mate: how men and women choose partners by looking for cues like facial symmetry, body shape, social status, and resources. But the evolutionary mating game wasn't just about finding a [hottie] in the savanna's equivalent of a singles bar. Natural selection favored those who stayed together long enough to raise children: the men and women who could sustain a relationship by keeping their partners happy. They would have benefited from the virtue to remain faithful, or at least the wiliness to appear faithful while cheating discreetly."

Is that news — that remaining faithful isn't always a total uphill battle for dudes — encouraging news for those of us interested in fidelity, or what?

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