A RECENT REPORT THAT humans are genetically programmed for
infidelity is a simplistic leap of logic, local scientists say.
"When people say we're born to be unfaithful, it's like saying
we're born to be gamblers, drug addicts or alcoholics," said Dr. C.
Robert Cloninger, a psychiatrist at Washington University School of
"It's just not that simple," said Cloninger, who studies the
genetic basis of personality. He reflected the view of several
scientists who study the relationship of genes and behavior.
At issue is a long-standing debate among scientists about
whether genetic makeup or lifetime experiences - nature or nurture
- most shapes personality and character.
The debate has revived in recent years as new technology made
it possible for scientists to begin mapping out the functions of
specific genes in the human genetic blueprint carried by the DNA in
As they discover specific genes for physical traits and for
such maladies as Huntington's disease, they're also finding
tantalizing signs that genes influence our behavior much more than
But finding which genes lead to which behaviors is incredibly
hard. That's partly because many genes may be involved in any given
type of behavior - from simple cheerfulness to more complicated
traits like infidelity, criminality and even a taste for Scotch and
Still less clear are the enormously complex interactions
between the genetic code - which dictates the basic structure of
circuits in the brain - and the life experiences that further shape
Researchers believe that a person's genetic blueprint instructs
the developing body how to build the brain's basic circuits. The
billions of circuits in that three-pound mass connect and fall
apart according to the person's experiences - from touching a hot
stove to reading a book. Out of those circuits come character and
That's why a person's genetic makeup and environment are
inextricably linked, scientists say.
"The more we learn, the more we see that it is not at all an
either-or situation," said Dr. Judith Miles, who leads a study of
genetics and autism at the University of Missouri School of
Medicine in Columbia.
Said Washington University's Dr. Theodore Reich, who helps lead
a national study of genetics and alcoholism: "We're forced to study
the full complexity of it."
The Keeping Of Harems
The intriguing report on infidelity came last month in a Time
magazine essay by writer Robert Wright, in which he adapted
arguments from his soon-to-be-published book, "The Moral Animal:
Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life. …