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What Drove Man to Monogamy: It Wasn’t Love

Two new studies analyze the origin of monogamy and come up with very different answers

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Image courtesy of Dieter Lukas
Image courtesy of Dieter Lukas

Meerkats are monogamous

Any list of the world’s as-yet-unsolved mysteries has to include these three questions: 1) Why are we here? 2) Why are yogurt containers sealed to pretty much guarantee spillage upon opening? and 3) How did monogamy ever develop?

New and divergent replies to the latter conundrum have been offered in two new studies, which, unbeknownst to each set of authors, came out in the same week. According to one, primates are monogamous so that nonrelated males don’t kill their babies. According to the other, that’s hooey; animals are monogamous because it was the only way they could guard their mates and thus their breeding rights.

Monogamy, as nearly any Ashley Madison subscriber likes to note, is not “natural.” That is, hardly any species practice it, except for birds (and, reportedly, cockroaches). Social monogamy, an arrangement in which two creatures mate and work together to meet their basic needs, is especially uncommon among the nonavian warm bloods; only about 5% of the 4,000 or so mammal species on earth hang around with just one mate. (These include wolves, beavers, naked mole rats and meerkats.) Since mating with only one female at a time tends to lower a male’s chances of producing as many offspring as possible, what good, evolutionarily speaking, can come of being monogamous? Why would mammals end up that way?

(MORE: Q&A: Author Dan Bergner on What Women Want (Hint: Not Monogamy))

One reason, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggests that males stayed with one female to ensure their young were not killed by another male. It’s one thing to sire a litter of pups and another to ensure that they actually survive to reproduce to carry on their genetic lineage. Based on breeding and parenting behaviors collected from 230 different primate species over several generations, the researchers determined that males began balancing the need to spread their gene pool against the need to protect their young from being killed by other nonrelated males. The attacking males needed to kill the young so that they could breed with its mother, who would delay conception of another offspring if they were nursing. So the father hung around to ensure the safety of his genetic line and to help raise the young so that the mother could reproduce again sooner.

“This is the first time that the theories for the evolution of monogamy have been systematically tested, conclusively showing that infanticide is the driver of monogamy,” trumpeted Christopher Opie, a research fellow in the Anthropology Department of University College London, in a statement. “This brings to a close the long running debate about the origin of monogamy in primates.”

Well, not so fast. Another study, published in the journal Science, used a similar type of analysis, but across a much wider sample — about 2,500 mammals, or more than half the known species. Those authors, Dieter Lukas and Tim Clutton-Brock of Cambridge University, found no correlation at all between infanticide and monogamy. Their results suggest that monogamy works like real estate: it’s all about location and supply. “Monogamy develops where females live at low density,” says Lukas. Males cannot fend off rival suitors from more than one female at a time because they’re too spread out. Therefore, they cannot ensure their young are the ones the female is carrying, so they stick with one female. “It’s a consequence of resource defense.”

(MORE: Stand by Your Man: Physical Proximity May Help Oxytocin to Keep Men in Relationships Faithful)

The Science study notes that in mammalian species that are monogamous, the females tend to be solitary and intolerant of other females. Unlike ungulates, who are rarely monogamous, these mammals’ nutritional needs are greater, and they therefore shoo off competitors for the food resources.

Both studies suggest that the third theory often advanced for the development of monogamy — in which males can assist in raising of the young — is much less likely. Rather than a cause of monogamy, such paternal assistance is probably a consequence of the mate-for-life scenario.

As for human monogamy, the PNAS study is much more comfortable extrapolating its results. Because humans have such big brains, their infants take a long time to nurture and are vulnerable for longer. Therefore human males had a compelling reason to hang around and protect their child-rearing female until breeding was done.

(MORE: The Ancient Sexual Revolution That May Have Spurred Human Monogamy)

The Science study is more speculative. “We are cautious on making any definite statement. Humans are such unusual animals,” says Lukas. Adds Clutton-Brock: “I’m far from convinced that humans are indeed monogamous.”

So how important were kids in man’s move toward monogamy? It’s a fascinating fight, but ultimately whether or not monogamy is natural is less relevant than whether it’s desirable. When considering behavior, naturalness is not the most important issue. There’s nothing natural about reading, using toilet paper or skydiving, but they have their advantages. Monogamy, in humans, seems to be both an acquired taste and a learned skill. The question remains whether it’s worth the cost of learning it.

66 comments
James69
James69

It’s a fascinating fight, but ultimately whether or not monogamy is natural is less relevant than whether it’s desirable.Casquette Snapback

TonyCord
TonyCord

These studies are much too simplified. Either one or both or neither of the conclusions are correct depending entirely on the circumstances. In other words, which combination is most beneficial is largely affected by the society and the culture and the era. It is impossible for studies on animals alone to yield meaningful results, and likewise results that are derived from a single culture only apply to that culture as it is during that immediate moment in time.

Anon_J
Anon_J

It's all very obvious that marriage and monogamy is a social institution rather than human nature. Historically(well actually very shortly compared to the whole history of human beings), It might had its benefits for better survival and progress of both the individual and the group. But now our society has changed a lot. Social institutions have its own applicability and own era. Many of them, once not fit to the development of human society anymore, will be improved, changed and even abandoned. The last paragraph of this article is nonsense. It's like trying to showcase some "morality" on this topic which is actually useless conservativeness. Many social transformations will only be recognized afterwards, especially cultural ones, but I believe many people now already understand the truth about monogamy and the future change of it, which is good.

Asadali
Asadali

Many people will not voluntarily go to the dentist’s office, unless it is an emergency. Fear is what makes many people hesitant to go to the dentist and will often try to put it off for as long as they can. http://www.medicalmingle.com/burgeoning/blog

DukeJustice
DukeJustice

"...the females tend to be solitary and intolerant of other females..."

This is the one that made the most sense to me.  Tell me it ain't true.



ToniWilkenson
ToniWilkenson

@DukeJustice No women are solitary toward men not women.  We tolerate other women but usually a select group.

Anon_J
Anon_J

I just don't understand why so many people are talking "religion" in the context. You talk as if Christianity is a universal thing for all human beings, while in fact it is only a western stuff, a thing that exerts influence on less than at least 1/3 of total population throughout the history I'm afraid. That's shallow. Marriage and monogamy is good for all: both parties, and the society. Many talks here are cynical and cold, failing to appreciate the humanity side of stuffs.

WiseEagle
WiseEagle

If you start with the assumption that we are simply evolved animals then I guess this nonsense might begin to make sense.  But  -  I don't accept the first premise so this whole thing is pretty much gibberish to me.

DukeJustice
DukeJustice

@WiseEagle Your screen name does not match with what you write.  Why are you so confusing?

sjcourton
sjcourton

How about "Divorce Lawyers" taking away your income and assets!!!

US1776
US1776

What Drove Man to Monogamy:   Crazy Woman with Frying Pan

.

Whatanotion
Whatanotion

Monogamy is an economic coping technique and it is also, in rare instances, a natural mutual attraction.   Also notice that one alpha male with 20 wives will produce a small army of offspring in 18 years.  Whereas one female with 20 husbands will at best have an army of 4 offspring.   Guess which one wins control of the pond.   Now use 10 husband and wife pairs in a community.    The monogamous pairs have a large mathematical variability and adaptability advantage.


Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2013/07/30/the-reason-for-monogamy-researchers-disagree/#ixzz2cfYrBGYJ

mackweatherbee2
mackweatherbee2

@Whatanotion very true also when you have that many children with that many wives that could have other wise had much different partners from a genetic stand point, it gets kind of messy for the gene pool


mikeylikeychiptole
mikeylikeychiptole

Wow, they make this a lot harder than it needs to be.  Males are monogamous (term used loosely, divorce, cheating etc) when their options get limited.  95% of guys would get laid like twice a year with some dirty bar skank.  So they figure, getting married and having a lot more sex (maybe) with a woman they can tolerate is better.  These articles act like if guys weren't married, they would just be out having sex with tons of women.  Unless you're super good looking, which most guys arent, its not like that.  So yea, married, knowing you'll get sex a decent amount....versus being 32, trolling bars on work nights trying to to unsuccessfully get laid most of the time.  Even when the good looking ladies men get married, they cheat on their wives anyways.  "Monogamous"  c'mon.  It's all about your options.  Look around, most guys are with women a lot better looking than them...women dont' seem to care as much about looks for some reason.  So when a guy can lock it down, he does and gets his sex that he otherwise would be having to work much much harder for, and as he gets older, would get less successful.

Anon_J
Anon_J

@mikeylikeychiptole Well I never believe "sex" is anything important in real, lasting relationships. If you want sex just pay some money, it will always be available no matter you are handsome or not, not hard at all. This thought is downright horrible. Relationship is more of a spiritual and responsibility thing. What have all the values come to?

Anon_J
Anon_J

@mikeylikeychiptole Sex sex sex... I genuinely don't understand what's going on in a lot of people's mind. Don't you feel the genuine joy when there is somebody to share things with, and the assuring sense of fulfilment when you have somebody to contribute yourself to? Don't you like the feeling of two persons taking care of each other? Those are the essence of relationships, and I believe a lot of wonderful people who live a wonderful life also say so. If you want sex go to sex workers, not relationship or partner.

feelinsumgood
feelinsumgood

@Anon_J @mikeylikeychiptole I won't argue any of your points except:   Why then is prostitution illegal/socially spurned and,  If sex isn't so important in a relationship, why does it just seem to be so important that people will cheat, divorce and otherwise make themselves and their families miserable just to get it when they are deprived at home?

mackweatherbee2
mackweatherbee2

@feelinsumgood because people forget whats important about relationships, especially in today's society, many of my generation dont understand what love is beyond a sexual standpoint, so when sex is deprived they believe that the relationship which had previously been about sex is dried up and so move on the next one. also sexual promiscuity is pratically glorified nowadays on media that it almost seems normal to cheat/ get a divorce

BabuG.Ranganathan
BabuG.Ranganathan

NATURAL LIMITS TO EVOLUTION: Only evolution within biological "kinds" is genetically possible (i.e. varieties of dogs, cats, etc.), but not evolution across "kinds" (i.e. from sea sponge to human). How did species survive if their vital tissues, organs, reproductive systems were still evolving? Survival of the fittest would actually have prevented evolution across kinds! Read my Internet article: WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS! (2nd Edition).

Imagine an evolving fish having part fins and part feet, with the fins evolving into feet. Where’s the survival advantage? It can’t use either fins or feet efficiently. There are absolutely no fossils of fish with part fins, part feet to support that any fish evolved limbs. These fish exist only on automobile bumper stickers!

A partially evolved trait or organ that is not complete and fully functioning from the start will be a liability to a species, not a survival asset. Plants and animals in the process of Darwinian macro-evolution would be unfit for survival. For example, “if a leg of a reptile were to evolve into a wing of a bird, it would become a bad leg long before it became a good wing” (Dr. Walt Brown, scientist and creationist).
 
Natural selection doesn't produce biological traits or variations. It can only "select" from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. The real issue is what biological variations are possible, not natural selection. Only limited evolution, variations of already existing genes and traits, is possible. Nature is mindless and has no ability to design and program entirely new genes for entirely new traits. Evolutionists believe and hope that over, supposedly millions of years, random genetic mutations caused by environmental radiation will generate entirely new genes. This is total blind and irrational faith on the part of evolutionists. Read my articles.
 
Visit my latest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION .

I discuss: Punctuated Equilibria, "Junk DNA," genetics, mutations, natural selection, fossils, dinosaur “feathers,” the genetic and biological similarities between various species, etc., etc.

Babu G. Ranganathan*
B.A. Bible/Biology
 
Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS
 
*I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I've been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who in The East" for my writings on religion and science.

HeberValMagalhães
HeberValMagalhães

Dude, get an education. Interesting that the only ones spouting gibberish about evolution are religious people. Non christian nations like Japan or Korea don't have ignorant people talking about stuff they don't understand.

Find a biology teacher.

SubramanianVenkatraman
SubramanianVenkatraman

There is no doubt that monogamy is a practice comparatively new to civilization. All the laws in civilized world banning polygamy confirms this conclusion. As civilization progressed and family values took roots, the organized society took it upon itself the protection of women by the institution of marriage. As much as this trend of one man for one woman would not have ever been even thought of during the middle ages, so we are unable to totally agree with further progress made in this direction of all sorts of 'gamys'! 

Whatanotion
Whatanotion

@SubramanianVenkatraman Your discussion is a little hard to follow.   ..."so are we unable ti totally agree with further progress made in this (the?) direction of all sorts of 'gamys'!  

Are you saying that our current social condition prevents social agreement in the direction of a poligamy?  Is there a number other than 1 excluded by "Poly"?  

mackweatherbee2
mackweatherbee2

@SubramanianVenkatraman i don't think so, i believe monogamy is not all that new, when you live in a small village or group and have 20 wives, thats not a very good situation because it limits the gene pool, thereby causing the possibility of inbreeding which is not good for the group as a whole.

punkakes13
punkakes13

i mean, its a choice, of respect.. hahahahhahahhahhahahaha

punkakes13
punkakes13

i think think the concept should be monogamy, but fidelity

they r never monagamic, but fidel hehehe

dlpartyka
dlpartyka

Every male learns that one is enough and sometimes to many!

cmd98024
cmd98024

I would like to know from the monogamists here: Why are *you* monogamous?

mackweatherbee2
mackweatherbee2

@cmd98024 also because when you find someone you love beyond attraction why do you need any more than that?

RekkaRiley
RekkaRiley

The fault with both studies is that they are predicated on the assumption that strict monogamy is the norm for humans as a species.

History and science both have shown us that it's not; in fact, humans don't really seem to have a "normal" setting for sexual or social relationships at all.

The social roles (including gender roles) that humans rely on for reproducing and raising young vary so much according to whatever circumstances are present in that particular place at that time, it seems that humans aren't strictly...well, anything.  

I think a big part of how humans ended up so successful is that we're flexible and adaptable; how we set up our societies and our families depends on what we have to work with, and we're not trapped by biology into one method and one method only the way other species are.  

Basically, humans have practicality as our hat:  We'll do whatever seems to get the job done, and we're not terribly picky about it.

daedalus
daedalus

I don't think humans are monogamous.  While there are monogamous relations within the human race many cultures have plural marriages. Also many of us have more than one partner in our lifetime which is called serial monogamy, but monogamy means 'only one' not only one until the next, and pf course many of us cheat on our spouses.  I have yet to mention swingers, threesomes and moresomes(orgies). 

So to me the premise that the human race is monogamous if a falsehood.

Whatanotion
Whatanotion

@daedalus I don't think it is the premise that the human race is monogamous as much as it is the premise that we have largely become that way.  I agree with the rest of your comment though.  It does seem though that for some reason monogamous families succeed for a while as communities that seem to have a chance at getting along cooperatively;  but only for a while at a time;  then the whole thing s seems to fall apart.

mackweatherbee2
mackweatherbee2

@daedalus i think that the premise that relationships are all about sex is a bunch of bull, also most of the time the people dont even have an idea of what love is, and its not sexual intercourse. it can involve it but i think people have trouble holding down a relationship because of that reason, not because we are polygamous by nature... i think we should leave that to the gorillas

midwestlady
midwestlady

I don't understand why this is so hard to comprehend. It takes a lot of resources and stamina to raise a child now that we are living longer and required to do more. One parent would equal fewer resources in comparison to a committed, secure two-parent household. Another biological reason we would remain monogamous is aging. When we are older we would be more inclined to care for a parent we've known all of our lives versus a sperm donor. 

Disco_House
Disco_House

"What drives men to Marry?": Insanity.