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Genetic Switches Behind 'Love' Identified In Prairie Voles

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the beady-eye-of-the-beholder dept.

Science 102

ananyo writes "Researchers have shown for the first time that the act of mating induces permanent chemical modifications in the chromosomes (epigenetic changes), affecting the expression of genes that regulate sexual and monogamous behavior in prairie voles. Prairie voles have long been of interest to neuroscientists and endocrinologists who study the social behavior of animals, in part because this species forms monogamous pair bonds — essentially mating for life. The voles' pair bonding, sharing of parental roles and egalitarian nest building in couples makes them a good model for understanding the biology of monogamy and mating in humans (abstract)."

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Good model?!? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43896895)

The voles' pair bonding, sharing of parental roles and egalitarian nest building in couples makes them a good model for understanding the biology of monogamy and mating in humans

A good model for ideal human behavior, sure, but actual behavior?!? One wonders if the researchers have met any actual human couples.

Re:Good model?!? (4, Funny)

dragon-file (2241656) | about a year ago | (#43897107)

The voles' pair bonding, sharing of parental roles and egalitarian nest building in couples makes them a good model for understanding the biology of monogamy and mating in humans

A good model for ideal human behavior, sure, but actual behavior?!? One wonders if the researchers have met any actual human couples.

Of course they haven't met actually human couples. They're researchers.

Re:Good model?!? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898673)

Actually, prairie voles may be modeling humans a little better than you might think. Even within the mated pairs, some of them are "deadbeat dads" that have to be forced by the female to spend time with the pups. Some others also occasionally cheat on their partners.

Re:Good model?!? (1)

hazah (807503) | about a year ago | (#43900503)

I think he meant that the assertion that humans are monogamous may not be so accurate.

Re:Good model?!? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43897235)

My wife is the type that got turned on by me being with other women. While this sounds awesome, I quickly found that it was too much trouble dealing with one (both physically and mentally), let alone multiple women was not as good as being monogamous. I think people stray from their partners for immediate, temporary gratification because of hormones and the excitement. If this option was on the table, folks would learn quickly the value of having one person

Re: Good model?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898375)

I am in a similar relationship, and I too must work on my cardio.

And yes, humans aren't monogomous.

Re: Good model?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899293)

That is a tough thing to say as a hard rule. I would say humans are temporarily monogamous. They have a 7-year pattern of mating, having offspring, raising them to a young age, then splitting. Our marriage views don't match this pattern. Further, there are evolutionary advantages to cheating for both men and women.

Thus the 7-year itch, when divorce is so common.

Re:Good model?!? (1, Redundant)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about a year ago | (#43899999)

I think people stray from their partners for immediate, temporary gratification because of hormones and the excitement. If this option was on the table, folks would learn quickly the value of having one person

That's your experience.

Thousands of polyamorous people have a quite different experience.

Re:Good model?!? (4, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43897429)

The voles' pair bonding, sharing of parental roles and egalitarian nest building in couples makes them a good model for understanding the biology of monogamy and mating in humans

A good model for ideal human behavior, sure, but actual behavior?!? One wonders if the researchers have met any actual human couples.

People like the vole model because prairie voles are(somewhat atypically) pair-bonded; but there is at least one closely related vole flavor that isn't. Makes narrowing down the elements involved (comparatively) pleasant and straightforward, by biology standards. Plus, 'vole' is pretty close to 'lab rat' in terms of size/cost/lifecycle-length/animal-rights-activists-setting-fire-to-your-lab, which makes it preferable to larger, more unwieldy, comparison animals.

Re:Good model?!? (5, Interesting)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#43897493)

Indeed. Primate monogmay correlates fairly well with proportional testical size - by which measure humans fall about midway between gorillas (where the females will reject advances by anyone but their troop leader) and chimpanzees (who use sex for a wide variety of social purposes and demonstrate almost no prolonged sexual pair-bonding).

I would be inclined to suggest that holding long-term monogamy as the "ideal" human behavior is itself the source of the vast majority of the problems our species encounters in that domain. There are (were?) considerably advantages to such an arrangement when trying to establish stable sociological institutions upon which empires can be built, but those advantages come at the expense of trying to distort our basic natures into something that they are, generally speaking, not inclined to be.

Re:Good model?!? (2)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#43898261)

All of society and culture is arguably "to distort our basic natures into something that they are, generally speaking, not inclined to be".

Long-term monogamy is needed to establish a household for the raising and acculturating of children. Keeping a difficult relationship together for the sake of raising the kids benefits society as a whole to an extreme degree. Sure, there may be other approaches to raising kids, but none that have been proven effective.

We have a real problem with culturally-accepted shortsighted selfishness right now, IMO - it's not all about what's best for you, today, in isolation. For enlightened self-interest the overall condition of the society you live in (primarily technology and social order) trumps simple short-term greed for maximizing long-term happiness.

Re:Good model?!? (3, Insightful)

dcollins (135727) | about a year ago | (#43898369)

So you support a society in which everyone is permanently miserable, because it serves to successfully perpetuate the permanently-miserable society.

Well, you're certainly not alone.

Re:Good model?!? (3, Interesting)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#43898699)

So you think that for a society in which there are two live-in caregivers the normal state is misery? Wow, you must be pretty unhappy.

I think the big problem was that, for lack of reliable birth control, "sex for fun" got tangled up with "raising children". Spending 20 years with someone just because you had sex with them no doubt makes for much unhappiness. OTOH, waiting to have kids until you're ready to commit long term (as opposed to waiting to have sex until you're ready to commit long term) has proven itself a good strategy for the kids.

Re:Good model?!? (2)

LateArthurDent (1403947) | about a year ago | (#43898471)

Keeping a difficult relationship together for the sake of raising the kids benefits society as a whole to an extreme degree.

Holy crap, no, it really doesn't. Being a child to divorce parents really sucks, but if there's one thing that is worse is being a child in a household where the parents don't love each other, but remain together because of a misguided concept of responsibility. You can be perfectly responsible and a part of your child's life without being married to the other parent.

Believe me, I know. I wish my parents had gotten divorced, but that's one of the things they cherry picked to follow in the catholic faith.

Re:Good model?!? (2)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#43898647)

You can be perfectly responsible and a part of your child's life without being married to the other parent.

Living together does not require marriage. Baby daddies are not fathers. Not that you specifically need a biological mother and father, but two live-in caregivers seems to be the key.

Sure, sometimes having two caregivers living with a child still doesn't work out well, but on average it's the best system people have found. I think extended families probably help too, but I suspect that's about simply having a larger network from which to select those two caregivers.

Re:Good model?!? (1)

LateArthurDent (1403947) | about a year ago | (#43900225)

Living together does not require marriage. Baby daddies are not fathers. Not that you specifically need a biological mother and father, but two live-in caregivers seems to be the key.

Fair point, but that doesn't say much about monogamy. By your criteria, both parents can sleep around with whoever they like, as long as they raise the children together.

Re:Good model?!? (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#43900439)

Sure, but most people can't make open relationships work. The expectation of monogamy means that most people keep it secret when they're cheating, which works better as a system.

I think too many people naively expect that the "rules" we make as a society must match how we'd like people to behave. That forgets that "hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue". Sometimes, you just want people to keep things secret, because "doing it anyway but keeping it secret" is the best strategy for society.

Re:Good model?!? (1)

Dixie_Flatline (5077) | about a year ago | (#43898641)

There are lots of societal models that rely considerably less on parents specifically to raise children. It's obviously a benefit to have a stable family in which to raise children, but that doesn't mean that it's the only good way to do it. Socioeconomic status is a better predictor of child outcomes than most other metrics, which says to me that it just takes the stability and resources that most middle class families find with two parents--a single parent (say, a mother that adopts a child, or is artificially inseminated) with an exceptional amount of money will raise children largely indistinguishable behaviourally from children of two parent homes.

Honestly, it's a bit culturally short-sighted to claim that the nuclear family is the best way, particularly in light of how often this model seems to fail in the modern era in the western world.

Re:Good model?!? (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#43899259)

Like I said - there may be something much better, but not that has proven itself. I think the factor that's safest to change is that it certainly doesn't need to be the biological parents, but still some two live-in caregivers with strong emotional ties to the child (adoption seems to work out well, after all).

Re: Good model?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43901989)

Children need to see people around them loving each other (acting selflessly as a norm as opposed to a rarity.) As well as to be loved themselves.
Using this bar as a measurement for modern western society is an alarming exercise to say the least. However imagining we actually could achieve success is also.

Re:Good model?!? (1)

excelsior_gr (969383) | about a year ago | (#43898795)

Long-term monogamy is needed to establish a household for the raising and acculturating of children. Keeping a difficult relationship together for the sake of raising the kids benefits society as a whole to an extreme degree. Sure, there may be other approaches to raising kids, but none that have been proven effective.

You are describing a model that not only fits the western society alone, but it has also seen application for a relatively limited (culturally speaking) amount of time. In ancient Greece, for example, men were monogamous only in terms of an "official" partner. It was quite common to be involved with one or more hetaera, if one could afford it. They were, essentially, sex workers, but also wealthy and well-respected. Similar models can be found in Asia. This lasted up to the middle ages, in which religion changed the rules of what is culturally acceptable. I also don't see how being monogamous benefits society. Given a good constitution and wealth to support the upraising (the first factor being the rather "hard-wired" selection criterion, the second more of a modern-day extrapolation of the first) an modern human alpha-male may raise many kids with different partners. A lot of them do!

I don't think we are genetically predisposed to be 100% monogamous, because, given a choice from our society and culture, a large percentage of the population wouldn't be (and a large percentage of the population isn't, even now, and wish the don't get caught, due to the cultural consequences).

Re:Good model?!? (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#43899421)

Well, good point. But very few people can make open relationships work in practice - jealousy seems to be genetic as well. I think if we could transition from the pre-birth-control "get married before you have sex" to a birth-control-works "get married before you have kids" there would be great benefit. Especially since most people seem to get tired of seeking new sexual partners and are ready to pick someone comfortable after a few years.

Re:Good model?!? (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about a year ago | (#43900083)

But very few people can make open relationships work in practice - jealousy seems to be genetic as well.

Very few people can make closed monogamous relationships work in practice either. Almost no one spends their whole live with just one person. It's a much bigger gap from real monogamy -- only ever having a romantic/sexual relation with one person -- to serial monogamy, than from serial monogamy to polyamory.

I think if we could transition from the pre-birth-control "get married before you have sex" to a birth-control-works "get married before you have kids" there would be great benefit.

It would be better if we transitioned to "have a committed agreement about child raising before you have kids". We need to please stop with the idea that marriage has to do with child rearing.

Re:Good model?!? (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#43900417)

If marriage does not mean "two people committed to raising children together" it's not a very useful word (otherwise society has no stake in who you live with). If it make you feel better, feel free to invent your own word that means "two people committed to raising children together" -but we need some word, because "two people committed to raising children together" is a mouthful.

Re:Good model?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899337)

Gods no. I have no idea how middle-class Western society got stuck on the idea that having children be raised by precisely their biological mother and biological father is optimal since it seems to be a pretty awful idea to me. Having only two adults in charge of a child seems like such a poor idea to me; it takes more than that. Extended family helping to raise a child is common in some cultures. The area I initially grew up was a quiet suburban street with a lot of families with children, so the neighbors would look after each other's kids. The isolated two adults raising children concept is just so awful for everyone involved. And has fuck all to do with those adults being in a monogamous relationship.

Re:Good model?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43899067)

With the lower ratio of body weight to testicle weight indicating less sperm competition, obese humans males must be more gorilla like have less competition than the rest of us.

No wonder I can't get a date.

Two Words = Red Wedding (1)

Lashat (1041424) | about a year ago | (#43899975)

timely and socially relevant pop culture reference. thanks

Re:Good model?!? (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#43898889)

A good model for ideal human behavior, sure, but actual behavior?!?

Not only is monogamy not what humans actually do (about half of all husbands and a third of all wives have affairs, at least in the US), it's questionable that monogamy is even a good idea - the motivating factors for it were (a) Protestant Christianity and (b) trying to ensure that patrilinear inheritance went to legitimate sons. Most societies historically were polygamous, and some societies still are polygamous.

As an example of some radically different notions about it:
- Plato suggested a system of randomly selecting spouses annually out of the pool of people smart enough to be considered part of the ruling class.
- The Oneida Community (a utopian group in the 19th century) attempted planned breeding, where people were assigned to mate for genetic reasons. For some reason, though, this purely scientific effort always ended up putting the most attractive women with the guy responsible for doing the assignments, which caused the system to fall apart.
- Iroquois women had complete control over who they partnered with, and could divorce at any time by kicking her partner out of her tent and leaving his stuff outside.

Re:Good model?!? (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about a year ago | (#43899907)

Understanding which switches work and how is going to help understand both ideal behavior AND actual behavior. Having some idea of what "ideal" might mean, helps to identify "deviant", and maybe to understand those deviations from the norm.

Re:Good model?!? (1)

sunsurfandsand (1959680) | about a year ago | (#43905811)

A good model for ideal human behavior, sure, but actual behavior?

Note that although prairie voles do form life-long bonds, they are not sexually monogamous. The pair will stay together, and cooperate in raising offspring, but will copulate with others. That looks a lot like actual human behavior.

Biological psychology strikes again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43896945)

What a depressing world they live in.

What species is Baby Daddy? (1)

Baldrson (78598) | about a year ago | (#43896947)

Quothe TFA:

..."a good model for understanding the biology of monogamy and mating in humans."

When will the science of sociobiology get around to studying the epigenetics of the Baby Daddy [urbandictionary.com] and determine his species?

all-right! (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year ago | (#43896953)

time to get me some prarie vole luvin'!

Except... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43896967)

... humans aren't prarie voles, and aren't inherently monogamous. (If they were, I wouldn't be divorced and would have married the first person I slept with. *shudder* Look, I was young...)

Re:Except... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43897091)

So there are no mistakes with vole relationships?

Re:Except... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43897457)

By definition, no. Any mistakes perceived by the vole would be removed by the chemical modifications.

Praire voles have permanent beer-goggles.

Re:Except... (1)

Roman Coder (413112) | about a year ago | (#43897689)

Praire voles have permanent beer-goggles.

The quote of the day!

Re:Except... (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | about a year ago | (#43898113)

What a life!

Re:Except... (1)

Nikkos (544004) | about a year ago | (#43897371)

Just because biology is talking, doesn't mean you have to listen.

Re:Except... (2)

cellocgw (617879) | about a year ago | (#43897537)

Just because biology is talking, doesn't mean you have to listen.

Now you've done it: cue the "free will" flame wars...

Re:Except... (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43899773)

you just had to say that.

Re:Except... (3, Insightful)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year ago | (#43897797)

Just because biology is talking, doesn't mean you have to listen.

If that's your strategy, you probably are destined for disappointment. IMHO, it's best to learn how to identify and avoid situations that force you to confront your biology.

Re:Except... (1)

Nikkos (544004) | about a year ago | (#43899029)

If that's your strategy, you probably are destined for disappointment. IMHO, it's best to learn how to identify and avoid situations that force you to confront your biology.

That's nonsense, you confront your biology every day. Ever had to urinate but held it? Ever fallen in love with someone who didn't reciprocate? Ever wanted to hit your boss, but didn't? Ever cried, but didn't want to?

Avoiding situations that forced you to confront your biology would boring as hell, and you couldn't do it anyway.

Re:Except... (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43899269)

I think you're just proving the parent poster's point. Yes, I've suffered the pains of really needing to pee on a long trip --- which teaches me it's a whole lot smarter to head to the bathroom in advance when I have the chance, instead of waiting for the most inconvenient time to be desperate. I've cried when I didn't want to --- which pretty much shows I would've been happier avoiding whatever situation lead to biologically unstoppable crying. Same with wanting to hit your boss/authority-figure: sure would have been nice to not end up under the heel of such a jerk in the first place. Always avoiding such situations isn't possible to do --- but that doesn't not make it a good idea to try (and hence succeed in some cases, if not in all). The result doesn't have to be a "boring" life, assuming you can find some positive ways to relieve boredom --- but if panicked confrontation with biological ultimatums is your only avenue of escape from banality, then I don't want to take away your few masochistic joys in a life of misery; go ahead and hold in that piss until you burst in pleasure.

Re:Except... (2)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year ago | (#43899505)

Yes, you got it...

I was thinking more along the lines of: if you are married, don't go out for drinks with the cute girl from work :)

And yes, that does make me slightly more boring - but that's rather the point! Not all kinds of excitement are good - get to know yourself and your weaknesses.

Re:Except... (1)

Nikkos (544004) | about a year ago | (#43899581)

You mean you _choose_ to pee in a bathroom? I would have assumed you didn't even bother going inside and/or pissed in your car. Also, people cry when happy. I guess you'd avoid that type of happiness as well.

Thank you for proving my point - we exert control over our biological impulses all the time, either ignoring them or choosing different ways/times to express them. We can't control all of them all of the time, and some can control themselves better than others, but just because biology is talking, doesn't mean you have to listen.

Re:Except... (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43899755)

You mean you _choose_ to pee in a bathroom?

That's right --- before my biology "is talking" at all, if my rational mind knows I'm about to be in a situation without easy access to urinals, I'll squeeze out whatever I can in advance (despite feeling no biological need) to avoid later confrontation with biological imperatives.

Also, people cry when happy. I guess you'd avoid that type of happiness as well.

I said I tried to avoid situations that would make me cry when I didn't want to. But I'm not averse to happy crying (because that means I'm happy), so I've no need to avoid that type of situation at all.

we exert control over our biological impulses all the time, either ignoring them or choosing different ways/times to express them.

but we can also sometimes be "smarter" than our biology, and arrange situations in advance so biological impulses rarely need to "speak up" in the first place --- that's different from merely controlling/expressing impulses as they arrive. My biology only knows to start shouting about needing to pee when my bladder is full; my higher consciousness has a head start and will send me to the bathroom *before* I'm caught between needing to agonizingly "control" my biology or "express" myself with wet pants.

but just because biology is talking, doesn't mean you have to listen.

Even better to arrange in advance for your biology not to have reasons to say anything that you wouldn't agree with. Struggling for control should only be a backup plan.

Re:Except... (3, Insightful)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43897777)

Humans aren't entirely monogamous, but along the spectrum observed in other species --- from rigid monogamy to "mate with anything that moves" --- humans are at least semi-monogamous; frequently pair-bonding, if not for life, at least for the relatively long period for offspring to be born and reach self-sufficient maturity. Understanding the biological mechanisms backing "strongly monogamous" mammalian behavior may also provide information about what biological mechanisms contribute to humans' less total tendencies towards monogamy.

Re:Except... (1)

InvalidError (771317) | about a year ago | (#43901531)

humans are at least semi-monogamous; frequently pair-bonding, if not for life, at least for the relatively long period for offspring to be born and reach self-sufficient maturity.

Are human truly naturally monogamous to any significant extent? Most of our society, religions, laws, entertainment, etc "strongly" encourage or even enforce it while similarly attempting to discourage polygamy.

In such a heavily biased environment with sentience getting in nature's way at every opportunity, it is very difficult to tell if the root cause is nature or the environment... in nature, most males would jump on a female in heat flashing her goods with minimal encouragement (known to occur even with mated pairs) while with humans, most guys would resist the temptation due to fear of legal, health and various external repercussions. I remember reading an article about 10 years ago where about 30% of guys will accept an offer for sex vs 10% for women. I suspect those percentages would be much higher if we did not have to worry about future consequences.

I strongly suspect the researchers' perception that humans are monogamous in nature is heavily skewed.

If they wanted to study true human nature, they would have to raise kids in total isolation from the outside world and its norms/cultures/influences to see what happens without any reference or interference to skew things anywhich way.

Re:Except... (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43901785)

Disentangling the extent of genetic vs. cultural factors in monogamy will indeed be difficult to do. Understanding the mechanisms in related species can help with this: once you've identified what makes voles stay together, if you can show that humans are entirely lacking the corresponding genes/mechanisms, then you have evidence pointing more towards purely cultural monogamy. If you find that humans share similar structures, that get activated by and maintained for long periods after "pair bonding" events, then you have more evidence for a genetic component. I wouldn't rule out that a fair number of humans have significant "natural" predispositions towards monogamy --- mixed monogamous/polygamous behavior depending on individuals is observed in other species (some individuals of the species attempt to maintain monogamous relations, while others are "serial cheats"). While cultural pressures keep a lot of "unhappy" marriages together, there are also many individuals who report, from their own experience, lasting and devoted specific affection for paired mates; if not for life, then at least for many-year timescales (that would be useful for raising children from birth to self-sufficiency); it's not a-priori evident that some measure of "natural" monogamy doesn't exist alongside hump-everything instincts (buried under layers of cultural modification).

in nature, most males would jump on a female in heat

A somewhat unusual feature of homo sapiens is that being "in heat" is not strongly expressed: while there are some behavioral/hormonal changes throughout the female fertility cycles, human females don't give off an extremely obvious visual/pheromonal "I'm fertile right now!" indicator. This is compatible with using "sex anytime" for non-procreative reasons --- including maintaining pair bonding; this is not an adaptation that encourages "jump on the female right now to maximize procreative potential."

I strongly suspect the researchers' perception that humans are monogamous in nature is heavily skewed.

Why do you assume the researcher think humans are monogamous in nature? These researcher are interested in *voles* which are monogamous in nature.

If they wanted to study true human nature, they would have to raise kids in total isolation from the outside world and its norms/cultures/influences

Or, to pass Institutional Review Board ethics requirements while still usefully applying the scientific method, you do research on alternate related species that can eventually be checked/verified on human models without totally intrusive lifetime meddling.

Headline fail (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about a year ago | (#43896995)

Misplaced modifier, ahoy!

"Genetic Switches Behind 'Love' in Prarie Voles Identified" would be the more accurate (although poorly written) version

Or the opposite (3, Insightful)

cellocgw (617879) | about a year ago | (#43896999)

Somehow I strongly doubt that any such epigenetic (or other) monogamy-influencing event takes place when humans mate.

Couldn't agree more... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43897123)

...the event must happen before mating. I still can't stop thinking about that sorority girl and she wouldn' t give me the time of day.

Re:Or the opposite (2)

ananyo (2519492) | about a year ago | (#43897347)

On what evidence? It seems pretty obvious that -some- sort of epigenetic changes happen in the human brain too on -some- occasions. I doubt the researchers are arguing that human pair-bonding happens in exactly the same way as in prairie voles - just that there are some parallels. In any case, the cool thing is that they've shown epigenetic changes behind pair-bonding for the first time. (There's plenty of evidence that epigenetic changes influence other forms of complex human behaviour (eg see http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100908/full/467146a.html [nature.com] ). No reason I can see for sex/love to be different.)

Re:Or the opposite (2)

mu22le (766735) | about a year ago | (#43897397)

Somehow I strongly doubt that any such epigenetic (or other) monogamy-influencing event takes place when humans mate.

Tell that to your oxytocin receptors (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_motivation_and_hormones#Oxytocin_and_vasopressin)

Re:Or the opposite (1)

cellocgw (617879) | about a year ago | (#43897437)

Sure, but unless you can show that oxytocin is actually a causative agent of long-term pair-bonding, my point stands. It sure doesn't seem to do so from what I see in "real life."

Re:Or the opposite (4, Informative)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#43897721)

There is minimal evidence to suggest that humans are biologically predsposed to long-term pair bonding at all, in fact there's considerable evidence to the contrary. Oxytocin does however seem to be a significant agent in the amount of pair-bonding we are predisposed to.

The problem is that researchers like these try to use species that are biologically inclined to long-term monogamy as models for an unrelated species (us) that are sociologically biased towards it. Because the basic fact is that sociological behaviors operate on an almost completely different set of rules, and changes on timescales that genetics can't hope to respond to effectively.

So how about for a change instead of trying to shoehorn human behavior into some sort of arbitrary "moral ideal", we instead take a good hard look at what we actually are, and adjust our sociological and moral norms to be in line with our basic natures. Socially enforced monogamy was a useful solution to support child-rearing as our societies grew beyond the scale where tribalism was effective, but it was hardly the *only* solution, and irrationally clinging to it as the ideal today, when pretty much everything else about our society has been utterly transformed, is intellectually questionable at best.

Re:Or the opposite (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898061)

What we are is not necessarily what we want to be or should be in light of the future.

What we are is definitely not what we were.

Those that were exactly what we were died out long ago.

Re:Or the opposite (1)

AvitarX (172628) | about a year ago | (#43898689)

I think (observationally/anecdotally) that humans have a variety of predispositions in the monogamy area. Some people are incapable of it, some are super predisposed to it. I haven't personally seen these traits correlate with peoples adherence to social norms in other areas. We'll see more public non-monogamy I assume that just as there is a spectrum of suexual orientations, and sex drives, there is a spectrum of pairing drive for lack of a better term. The way that people are driven to behave non-monogamously is pretty varied even.

Re:Or the opposite (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#43900677)

So how about for a change instead of trying to shoehorn human behavior into some sort of arbitrary "moral ideal", we instead take a good hard look at what we actually are, and adjust our sociological and moral norms to be in line with our basic natures.

What makes you think we haven't done this already? There is some need to restrain "basic nature" behavior such as theft, rape, murder, etc. And any such rule set is going to be somewhat arbitrary in how it is constructed.

Re:Or the opposite (1)

TheLink (130905) | about a year ago | (#43902177)

The experimental and somewhat haphazard domestication of homo sapiens by homo sapiens continues.

As observed in other species, domesticated breeds become significantly different from wild ones over generations:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domesticated_silver_fox [wikipedia.org]
The researchers even bred very vicious foxes.

We wouldn't have got to where we are if we just stuck to being "chimps" or "gorillas" long ago. Sticking to what our genes are is overrated. Extending the survival of this species likely depends on figuring a way to have sustainable colonies off this planet. But that is but just one possible goal out of many.

Re:Or the opposite (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43897521)

Tell that to your oxytocin receptors (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_motivation_and_hormones#Oxytocin_and_vasopressin)

This.

TFA: âoeIf mating causes the release of the neuropeptide, how does this kick into a higher gear for the rest of the animalâ(TM)s life? This study for me really is the first experimental demonstration that the epigenetic change would be necessary for the long-term change in behaviour.â

Although I can only speak for a sample size of one, I can attest that the effect in humans wears off, but it takes about 5-10 years. (Last pair-bonding activity was in the late 90s, last time I felt lonely was about 5-6 years ago.)

NIMH (4, Funny)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year ago | (#43897143)

"This is a study I myself wanted to do years ago,” says Thomas Insel, who heads the US National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. “...This study for me really is the first experimental demonstration that the epigenetic change would be necessary for the long-term change in behaviour.”

Insel continued. "Unfortunately, due to a scandalous bit of contrived fiction, we here at NIMH have been prohibited from doing this kind of work for decades. Every attempt to work on a rodent model is sabotaged, with a Frisbee left at the scene and the words 'REMEMBER NICODEMUS' spray-painted on the wall. Police never found a suspect, and eventually Congress pulled the funding. Hopefully our colleagues at Florida State can continue this valuable work without such interference!"

Hypergamy Cure? (1)

devloop (983641) | about a year ago | (#43897183)

While they're at it, could they also do some work on hypergamy?
Maybe *gasp* come up with a cure or at least some treatment?

This condition afflicts the great majority of woemn in the U.S.
Some you know suffers from it..

Re:Hypergamy Cure? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#43897329)

Is it a problem? Assuming for the moment that "marrying up" is indeed a trend among women and not just a popular colloquialism, the natural extrapolation is that there are even more women "marrying down" (hypogamy) - they do after all outnumber men by ~2% (51% vs 49% in all societies that don't artificially bias their gender mix).

In fact it seems to me there are really only two options - either numerous individuls are "marrying up/down", or you end up with a very stratified society where virtually nobody marries anyone outside their current socio-economic caste.

Re:Hypergamy Cure? (2)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43897993)

or you end up with a very stratified society where virtually nobody marries anyone outside their current socio-economic caste.

Well, at least in the US, "very stratified society" is a fairly apt description. Some basic statistics are available in the Wikipedia article on US social mobility [wikipedia.org] . While not "officially" enforced as in a caste system, the US has many institutions that discourage inter-class mixing. People of considerably different economic status generally grow up in different neighborhoods, go to different schools, and end up in a formally class-stratified workplace (with distinct "labor" vs. "management" roles, corresponding to large differentials in salary and social interaction). The US displays a combination of high inequality and low mobility generally only exceeded by considerably less developed nations.

Re:Hypergamy Cure? (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about a year ago | (#43898111)

Sadly, you're fighting human nature here. F'rinstance, say you're a successful white guy with a Masters or PhD, a salary in the low six figures and have always lived in an upper middle class milleau. Are you going to marry your Mexican maid, who barely speaks English and never finished high school? It does happen, but not often, no matter how inherently brilliant, or wonderful a person the maid or the white guy might be. Neither of you fit into each other's lives or families. Most people take an easier road.

Re:Hypergamy Cure? (3, Informative)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43898293)

One can hardly call this "human nature" when pretty much every other developed country has higher equality and social mobility --- if anything, the US is bucking the trend of human nature to seek higher ideals of equality and freedom once technological development allows the satisfaction of lower needs. Of course, the key is not convincing more rich white male rich guys to marry their Mexican maids despite a complete lack of shared culture, but to create a society where there is a sense of shared culture and humanity between people in all walks of life. For example, having a robust and high-quality public education system so both the kids of millionaires and janitors grow up socializing together is a key component in more egalitarian societies. So to is having high minimum wage standards and social safety nets, so that even maids can have time/access to hobbies and culture and forming relationships outside of a depressed community of grinding poverty. When living on a lower quintile income isn't a death sentence for your children's hopes and dreams and future, then there is much less of a barrier to marrying for love across income lines.

Re:Hypergamy Cure? (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about a year ago | (#43898693)

...bucking the trend of human nature to seek higher ideals of equality and freedom once technological development allows the satisfaction of lower needs.

I wish this were true, but it's not, or the USA wouldn't be trending so far in the other direction. Moreover, cultures which had relatively long term stability and prosperity (e.g. Rome, Ancient Egypt, the Mayans), were not exactly shining examples of "seeking higher ideals of equality and freedom." The price of prosperity in all these cultures was slavery.

And here's where your argument fails. It wasn't human nature or technological development, per se, that allowed greater equality. It was the exploitation of hydrocarbon energy. Starting with coal and steam power in the 1700s and 1800s, followed by natural gas and oil, machines were suddenly able to provide labor previously provided by slaves. In essence, cheap engines made expensive, less powerful slaves much less cost-effective. Humans weren't freed by idealism, despite the post facto explanations of religious movements and pandering politicians. They were freed by cheap energy.

The details vary. Sometimes wars were fought, or not, but no ancient pre-hydrocarbon civilization voluntarily freed their slaves. As always, human idealism explanations are tacked on as an afterthought after real life cirumstances force a change.

Sorry to bust your bubble. Believe me, the world is going to look a lot different after you're out of college a few decades.

Re:Hypergamy Cure? (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43898861)

I wish this were true, but it's not, or the USA wouldn't be trending so far in the other direction.

But then why is the US an outlier in equality/mobility? Why is the US more representative of human nature than Denmark, Canada, Australia, Germany, or Japan (for example)? Rather than attributing the rightward drift of the US to "human nature," wouldn't it make more sense to draw the conclusion that there's a positive feedback between high concentration of political/media/social control in the hands of a tiny wealthy elite, and policy shifts to favor further strengthening the power of the wealthy elite?

It wasn't human nature or technological development, per se, that allowed greater equality. It was the exploitation of hydrocarbon energy.

A.K.A. technological development (to extract and use hydrocarbons) --- how does this not fit perfectly under "technology"? And, as it became apparent that society didn't need the overwhelming majority of people to scratch furrows in fields with a stick, or hand-knit clothes, to assure a comfortable level of living for all, "the masses" started to demand/expect greater levels of access to art, culture, education, leisure, governance, autonomy, freedom.

but no ancient pre-hydrocarbon civilization voluntarily freed their slaves.

Fortunately, we're not a pre-hydrocarbon culture --- so why do you insist we stay in slavery? The wide variety of nations that manage more egalitarian/mobile societies than the US without falling into national destitution (even ones with lower per-capita resources) prove that we've got enough resources to support a significantly more egalitarian society than we have.

Humans weren't freed by idealism, despite the post facto explanations of religious movements and pandering politicians. They were freed by cheap energy.

Okey-dokey; so now that we've got the cheap energy, let's not let the ideology of pandering-to-the-wealthy politicians and religious movements (especially vocal in the US) push us in the wrong direction from freedom.

Re:Hypergamy Cure? (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about a year ago | (#43899303)

But then why is the US an outlier in equality/mobility?
We were, and are an outlier because we started on a continent whose resources had not yet been exploited, and had enough land area which could be used as an outlet for both criminals, entrepeneurs and those in-between. Resource wealth and a measure of geographical freedom allowed a measure of social mobility. Australia has a similar history.

Hydrocarbon energy isn't "technology" any more than Niagra falls is technology. It's an energy source which was ultimately exploited using technology. Unlike Niagra falls with it's relatively fixed energy potential and limited location, the more useful, and portable energy provided by hydrocarbons is limited.

"the masses" started to demand/expect greater levels of access to art, culture, education, leisure, governance, autonomy, freedom.
High school "history." The "masses" did not expect anything. As always, they are promised something and given things either to quell outright rebellion or to gain votes if the government is democratic or semi-democratic.

Fortunately, we're not a pre-hydrocarbon culture
No, but we will be before this century is out. Not that there won't be oil, coal and natural gas in the ground, but there won't be enough energy-positive oil, coal, or natural gas to supply enough cheap transportation fuel to sustain the world's, interdependent "just-in-time" supply chains at anything like their current level.

FYI, I don't "insist" on slavery. I notice its existence, its longevity as an institution, its shrinkage and the implications. That's all.

Could we provide a more egalitarian society on less? Sure. Theoretically. If you look at humanity historically, however, it just doesn't seem to happen. My view is emperical, not theoretical.

Re:Hypergamy Cure? (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43899435)

Resource wealth and a measure of geographical freedom allowed a measure of social mobility.

The US has extremely low social mobility, tied with the UK for lowest mobility among developed nations. Since the UK is basically the opposite of what your theory says shaped US social mobility, I'd say your theory has some problems.

Australia has a similar history.

Then why did Australia end up with significantly higher social mobility and economic equality?

Hydrocarbon energy isn't "technology" any more than Niagra falls is technology. It's an energy source which was ultimately exploited using technology.

Fair enough; but if you want to stick with this pedantic distinction, then it's wrong to say that "hydrocarbons" were the force behind social changes --- since it was the *technology* using hydrocarbons, rather than the hydrocarbons themselves (just lying about in the ground) that allowed less manual-labor-centric societies.

No, but we will be before this century is out.

So, assuming we don't develop/use alternate energy sources (nuclear, solar, etc.) by the end of the century, society might start heading for trouble then. But that wouldn't explain unusually high social inequality in a country with, currently, unusually high (cheap and easily available) hydrocarbon consumption --- the US. Your argument that societies are "forced" to certain levels of inequality by (hydrocarbon) resource availability falls pretty flat in the face of evidence that the US is simultaneously quite rich in energy resources, yet extremely poor in equality and social mobility.

As always, they are promised something and given things either to quell outright rebellion

And rebellion is a risk because the "masses" have come to expect things that their overlords didn't want them to. If there was no counter-status-quo spread of ideological yearning for equality among the masses, then there would be no threat of rebellion from a passive and complacent populace.

My view is emperical, not theoretical.

Then why do you keep proposing theories that flatly contradict the empirical evidence?

Re:Hypergamy Cure? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43905635)

Depends on how the maid looks, I think it is a lot more likely than the opposite
plenty of successful men with "trophy wifes" that barely speak english and have no education,
well educated successful women with uneducated husbands not so much

Human's pair up but don't stay monogamous. (1)

guantamanera (751262) | about a year ago | (#43897197)

why would they research some other animals when there are plenty of humans available to do direct research on. I am sure lots of people would volunteer. Does this even need to be researched? Human are not monogamous, they do like to pair up and that is probably to raise the offspring

Re:Human's pair up but don't stay monogamous. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43897377)

I don't think that its as easy as you think to allow someone to inject chemicals into the nucleus accumbens of people to see if it causes epigenetic changes. Furthermore,

Re:Human's pair up but don't stay monogamous. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43897667)

Furthermore,

Furthermore, SQUIRREL!
Someone's been skipping their experimental ADHD medication.

mmmm (1)

houbou (1097327) | about a year ago | (#43897199)

Maybe the simplicity of the voles' nature and their lifestyle and habitats are more conducive towards monogamy.

Bonobos (4, Interesting)

dcollins (135727) | about a year ago | (#43897205)

"a good model for understanding the biology of monogamy and mating in humans"

Are humans that close to prairie voles? Because bonobos, our closest actual relation evolutionary speaking, are highly sexualized and totally polygamous.

http://brembs.net/bonobos.html [brembs.net]

Of course, if one is seeking to bolster some culturally-determined myth of monogamy (so as to uphold property rights and inheritance, perhaps) then you've got to look pretty far afield for examples of monogamous species.

Re:Bonobos (1)

ananyo (2519492) | about a year ago | (#43897443)

Actually, the parallel to bonobos is inaccurate-despite the genetic similarities, they're not the closest primate model to us in terms of our secual behaviour. There are plenty of reasons to strongly suspect that humans are somewhat monogamous - eg human males and females are around the same size - for various reasons, strongly polygamous species tend to have larger males, smaller females. Of-course humans are not strictly monogamous - few stick with just one partner for their whole lives - but then neither do many other 'monogamous' species.
Lots of articles about our propensity for monogamy vs polygamy
eg http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_evolution/2012/10/are_humans_monogamous_or_polygamous_the_evolution_of_human_mating_strategies_.html [slate.com]
>> Like so many other animals, human beings aren't really that monogamous. Better to say, we're monogamish.

Re:Bonobos (2)

dcollins (135727) | about a year ago | (#43898519)

"There are plenty of reasons to strongly suspect that humans are somewhat monogamous - eg human males and females are around the same size - for various reasons, strongly polygamous species tend to have larger males, smaller females."

How is that size ratio different from the polygamous bonobos? Humans and bonobos both have about the same size between genders (among other similarities in sex organs). Perhaps you're thinking of gorillas that have a 2:1 size difference and a polygynous (alpha male mates with all females) nature.

Re:Bonobos (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43897613)

Voles are a good model because they relatively neatly elucidate the mechanism: you have access to both pair-bonding voles and (quite similar) non-bonding species, which narrows the search space considerably. Plus, bonobos are big, relatively rare, and have fairly long lifecycles, which makes doing potentially invasive and dangerous research(like determining that you've found the correct switch by patching a vole to change its behavior) without dedicating a decade or two, a substantial amount of money, and some unpleasant little chats with the IRB.

Re:Bonobos (1)

mdielmann (514750) | about a year ago | (#43897983)

Of course, if one is seeking to bolster some culturally-determined myth of monogamy (so as to uphold property rights and inheritance, perhaps) then you've got to look pretty far afield for examples of monogamous species.

So, what's the reason in your conspiracy-riddled world that we use rats and mice for so much of the basic research modern scientists do? It certainly can't be all the other commonalities between rats and voles, can it?

Monogamy is a cultural fact, going back thousands of years (same for polygamy). Finding an acceptable model is the first step in seeing if it also has a biological basis. And here's this handy little creature with the trait we want to study and a short lifespan. Even if they're wrong about the connection, this wouldn't be the first time scientists went down a dead end, to the profit of society.

Re:Bonobos (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43898851)

When looking at prairie voles, or any other "for life" pair bonded animals, researchers have found that while the pair may be together for life, they are not sexually monogamous. Most of the problems that I see in relationships are because people do not understand the difference between sexual monogamy and emotional monogamy. Confusion of the two is a relatively recent widespread concept--in the past few centuries mostly. It is a romantic idea--prince charming lives happily ever after with the damsel and they fully satisfy each other's needs. Life isn't quite that neat, and I realized some time ago that it would be foolish to throw away an emotionally stable and fulfilling relationship because of a sexual infidelity that more likely as not was a result of simple boredom or opportunity.

Celebrities (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43897251)

Makes you wonder what happens when celebrities mate.

Mating for life is NOT normal human behavior! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43897519)

It's not how human families naturally work [nationalgeographic.com] .

TL;DR: Naturally, humans live in small groups (villages when settled), and relationships only rarely last for life. Normal is about 2, 5 or sometimes 10 years. [Not much different other types of relationships (*close* friendships, jobs), IMHO.]
The reason that is not a problem, is because kids are generally raised by the whole tribe, at the center of the village. The place where the women sit when they work, and where politics got started. [For most of the time, humans actually were matriarchic, exactly because of this.] And if the kids are old enough, they help the grown-ups and learn in the process.
That's normal human behavior.

The whole "married for life" (like it's a prison sentence) thing came up when churches or other powerful figures wanted to get to decide who gets to make children and who doesn't. That's sex before marriage is such a "taboo" to these sick monsters. So it essentially is a eugenics program.

muscrat love (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43897737)

yeah captain!

Bad summary? (1)

wcrowe (94389) | about a year ago | (#43897771)

I'll give the summary writer a bit of a break since they did put "love" in quotes, but let's not take this concept too far. I love a number of people with whom I have never mated; and there are several people with whom I have mated that I do not love.

The article writers, to their credit, do not use the term "love" anywhere in their abstract.

Already disproven (2)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year ago | (#43897835)

Ask any woman and they will tell you that all men are not voles, but are in fact, pigs.

Re:Already disproven (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43902623)

Recent poll seemed to indicate that man mostly associate females with female dogs, AKA birches...

How does it help us understand humans? (1)

Nadaka (224565) | about a year ago | (#43897847)

Humans are not at all biologically monogamous. Monogamy exists only as a social construct for the human species.

If they find the "switches" in humans, we're SCREW (1)

wisebabo (638845) | about a year ago | (#43897951)

(In more ways than one!)

Imagine being able to determine (or having someone determine for you!) who you fall in love with. A real life "love potion" as it were.

It would be the end of civilization as we know it. If it were used "rationally" we could end up as a society of Vulcans, with love (and mating) at carefully proscribed times and settings (it was called "Pon Far" or something like that). If it were used as a means of control, it could usher in a true "Brave New World". If it were used like the Internet is used today, society could fragment into hyper-specialized castes; nerds might only mate with nerds, jocks with jocks or even more specialized like accountants only wanting to be with other accountants. The human race could speciate (is that a word?) very quickly.

I've always wondered if the answer to the Fermi paradox was something like this; that we will do ourselves in not by crudely blowing ourselves up but rather in the process of understanding more and more of our biology we'd find (and open) Pandora's box. Like we'd discover an incredibly addictive drug or maybe mind control. Considering how central "love" has been to the course of human events, the ability to switch it on (or off?) could prove equally devastating.

In the book "Godel, Escher, Bach" my faint recollection is that the author claimed any programmable machine can be fed a program that can make it "halt". One example given was that of a simple record player; when a specially crafted record was played the precisely made vibrations was such that the turntable shook itself apart (halted). Maybe all intelligent creatures carry this same flaw and as our science and technology we are coming closer and closer to finding it.

Or maybe I just need to stop worrying, get some of this love potion and get myself a girlfriend! :)

Re:If they find the "switches" in humans, we're SC (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43898075)

I suspect that the effects would be unpleasant for our(already somewhat tattered) delusions of free will; but probably less socially dramatic than might be expected: after all, a nontrivial amount of human pair bonding throughout history has been driven by a combination of economic need, social pressure, and good, old-fashioned violence. The use of more sophisticated chemical/biological coercion, to subvert the individual's preference rather than overpower it, would be an interesting twist; but would probably lead to results not too dissimilar from those historically seen with overt coercion.

Re:If they find the "switches" in humans, we're SC (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43899789)

You underestimate the human capacity for denial. Even if you could come up with an absolutely perfect, mathematically sound, undeniable proof that all events are predetermined... most people would refuse to believe it, and those who did believe wouldn't do anything differently.

Re:If they find the "switches" in humans, we're SC (1)

ImprovOmega (744717) | about a year ago | (#43898401)

In the book "Godel, Escher, Bach" my faint recollection is that the author claimed any programmable machine can be fed a program that can make it "halt". One example given was that of a simple record player; when a specially crafted record was played the precisely made vibrations was such that the turntable shook itself apart (halted). Maybe all intelligent creatures carry this same flaw and as our science and technology we are coming closer and closer to finding it.

Of course we have this "halting" flaw. We see it all the time already. One pop-culture method of exploiting it involves a specially programmed 1/3 ounce piece of lead delivered to the central processing unit at speed.

Recession... (1)

ardle (523599) | about a year ago | (#43897977)

...is a good time for fidelity :-)

I would guess .... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about a year ago | (#43897979)

that if they are no longer having sex that the change reverts. IOW, lack of sex leads to destruction in monogamy.

Humans aren't monogamous though (3, Interesting)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about a year ago | (#43898497)

Culturally maybe, but not biologically. I just read an article a few months back about why our penises are shaped the way they are. Basically, the head is optimized to siphon another male's semen out of a woman during the thrusting action. That slightly uncomfortable sensitivity you feel after orgasm is nature's way to stop your thrusting so you don't accidentally siphon out your own semen.

Re:Humans aren't monogamous though (1)

certsoft (442059) | about a year ago | (#43900031)

"I'll be in my bunk" - Jayne

Endangered species.... (1)

Pyrotech7 (1825500) | about a year ago | (#43899661)

What are Voles? And why should we pattern human behavior after them? According to rules of natural selection, I would think they are soon to be an endangered species.

How could this be abused? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43899851)

Once the full mechanism is understood, how could it be manipulated?

- The 'love potion' - slip this into your rich boyfriend's dinner and give the romance a little aid.
- The 'love poison' - need to discredit a politician or public figure? A little of this and a bit of time, one affair made to order.
- The 'love killer' - falling in love, but need to focus on your career? Take a shot of this stuff and the love of your life becomes just another notch on the bedpost.
- Added bonus: Kid dating the wrong kind of girl? Tell him to take a love killer before it gets too serious.
- Been abusing your partner, but afraid she'll go to the police or family? Dose her with this and she'll be loyal as a dog.

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