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The Birds and The Humans: Monogamy LessonsWhenever you teach a child about the birds and the bees, you’re being a lot more accurate than you may realize. It turns out that human mating has more in common with birds than most fellow mammals, besides the loving prairie vole mammals of course. Birds and prairie voles are mostly monogamous, with exceptions, and that is frequently the pattern of humans as well.

There’s been plenty of research going on about the topic of human monogamy and its social and biological underpinnings. A likely reason for increased interest in this research is the consistently high rate of couples filing for divorce within the last four decades. Evolutionary scientists are focusing on creatures of the wild, since it’s a bit easier and morally sound to experiment with animal mating rather than human mating.

Birds of a Feather Stick Together?

So what can the birds tell us about love? Are they naturally monogamous or naturally promiscuous? It’s a little bit of both, actually.

It seems human mating is similar to birds’ social mating patterns. Evolutionary psychologist, Nigel Barber, describes them as “socially monogamous,” meaning they form strong bonds with their mates that last for quite some time. However, he says, “when the male departs, his mate is known to entertain rival males who sire some of the chicks…For his part, the absent male does a certain amount of philandering.”

Although birdies are loyal, they are also naughty when the opportunity arises. Sound familiar? Many people claim to be monogamous and value marriage, but their actions sometimes show the opposite when the right situation presents itself on a silver platter.

Prairie Voles and the Cuddling Hormone

Prairie voles appear to be even more monogamous than birds, and we humans share many of the voles’ studied biological reasons for monogamy.

I was highly entertained to learn from Barber’s article that prairie voles have a honeymoon phase. They copulate very often in the beginning, which creates strong, long-lasting bonds and makes them addicted to each other, literally. Voles have many receptors for oxytocin and angiotensin. Oxytocin is known to create feelings of long-term affection and increases through acts such as cuddling.

Humans are also more or less sensitive to these kinds of bonding hormones. However, there are men that have double the amount of a certain gene, called RS3, which affects their angiotensin receptiveness, leading them to be less emotionally bonded with a woman, and consequently more promiscuous.

Domesticated Love

Besides brain chemistry, perhaps monogamy can also be attributed to more or less staying in one place. Birds only seem to cheat when they separate from each other, while voles show a slightly higher rate of monogamy and lower rates of travel. Maybe the voles’ fidelity rate stems from lack of opportunity and varying mating options.

The same can’t be said for the ever present temptations of humans, evidenced by how many couples exchange the mating process for the divorce process. Not only do spouses travel easily for jobs or leisure, they can also travel cyberly on the internet. Additionally, increased population concentrations in cities and close by communities provide endless mating options. Like birds that fly far away to their hearts desire, human monogamy is in many ways susceptible to romantic flightiness.

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