It is well known that genes are an important part of who we are, but did you know that genes also play an important role in our relationships?
We know that genes influence our behaviour and in fact, a whole area of science is dedicated to understanding this – behavioural genetics. But perhaps less well known, is that genes also affect how we look for a relationship and how compatible we are with that person.
The Sweaty T-Shirt Study
About 20 years ago, a ground-breaking research study was conducted out of Bern University, Switzerland by Professor Claus Wedekind. Today it is fondly referred to as the “sweaty T-shirt study”.
In the study, men were asked to wear the same T-shirt for two consecutive nights. Without ever having met the men in the study, women were asked to smell the T-shirts and rate the odour from most pleasant to least pleasant.
Dr. Wedekind found that three genes, namely the HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) genes A, B and DR played an important factor in how women rated the T-shirts.
The results? The more different the DNA sequence of these genes were from their own, the more “pleasant” the odour. The women were attracted to the pheromones of the man with the most opposing sequence.
It All Comes Down to Immunity
The reasoning behind this attraction to men with HLA genes different from their own lies in our understanding of immunity.
The HLA genes play an important role in immune recognition, which means they help fight off infection. When two HLA genes have slightly different DNA sequences, this means they respond differently to infection. Since everyone has two copies of each of these genes (A, B and DR), and if each gene has slightly different DNA sequences, this enhances our ability to fight infection.
Therefore, if we have a child with someone who has very different HLA genes from ourselves, then the child receives immune genes from both parents. This provides the child with a strong and diverse immune system.
Two people with very different HLA genes are known as “biological compatibility”. These couples enjoy more benefits than just producing a child with a diverse immune system. They also report better sex lives, greater physical attraction and a higher likelihood of a successful long-term relationship.
Feeling Emotional? Or Not So Much?
Relationship compatibility is much more complex than just biological compatibility.
Another gene, called the serotonin transporter gene, affects our overall relationship satisfaction. Like the HLA genes, the serotonin transporter gene has different versions with different DNA sequences. Depending on which version a person has, it affects how they respond emotionally to situations.
When couples respond very strongly or differently to emotional situations, research has shown this creates conflict in relationships. Over time, couples reported decreases in their relationship satisfaction if they had conflict in how they responded to emotional situations.
Power in Knowledge
The good news is, knowing is half the battle. Relationship compatibility can be strengthened by knowing intimate genetic information about you and your partner and understanding why you or your partner react to emotional situations in unique ways.
Now, with the advancements in relationship science, DNA can be used to discover your relationship compatibility. It can help couples strengthen their relationship and it can help singles find that great person they will have an intimate, physical attraction with.