Do you have the marry-me gene?
This guy apparently does. (You can watch his quasi-scientific/very entertaining dating profile here.)
It’s challenging to understand how something as simple and small as a gene can affect something as complicated as human behavior — the effects can take a long time to manifest. With this in mind, Robert Levenson and his team embarked on a 20 year study. In 1989, they began looking at married couples: what do fairly successful marriages look like? He got genetic samples from 156 couples (that had been married a minimum of 15 years).
For the study, they looked at a particular gene that’s involved in the regulation of serotonin (5-HTTLPR). A variation of this gene, which leaves serotonin in the synapse a bit longer — aka “short alleles” — seems to amplify a person’s emotional reactions.
Now this doesn’t mean that people with this gene variation are exploding all over the place. It just means that at every emotional fork in the road, their emotional reactions are a little bit stronger than people with long alleles or the mixed pattern. (About 30% of the population has this variation.)
"Now we’ve done a series of simpler studies that didn’t take 20 years, that took like 20 days. And we’ve shown how people with these short alleles, if we do something like we show them a sad film, they have bigger emotional reactions. If we show them a happy film, they have bigger emotional reactions. … So in the short term we have pretty good evidence that suggests that they’re just more emotionally responsive to the world."
Being a little bit more emotional at each juncture may be subtle in the moment, but over 20 years in an intimate relationship, it can lead to more dramatic effects.
Participants with two short 5-HTTLPR were most unhappy in their marriages in the face of negative emotion, like contempt, but also happiest when positive emotions like humor were present. On the other end of the spectrum, participants with two long copies were satisfied with their marriages regardless of the emotional atmosphere.
You can listen to the full interview with Dr. Levenson: