Why you can?t smell infidelity

Some data have shown, not quite conclusively, that the major histocompatibility complex profile of a man plays some role in the type of woman he attracts. Women prefer non-matching MHC profiles, sometimes, but not all the time. These preferences haven't been followed up much in those aspects that go beyond simple mate choice. A newly published study in linkurl:__Psychological Science__;http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journal.asp?ref=0956-7976&site=1 looked at 48 couples in long-term relatio

By | January 30, 2007

Some data have shown, not quite conclusively, that the major histocompatibility complex profile of a man plays some role in the type of woman he attracts. Women prefer non-matching MHC profiles, sometimes, but not all the time. These preferences haven't been followed up much in those aspects that go beyond simple mate choice. A newly published study in linkurl:__Psychological Science__;http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journal.asp?ref=0956-7976&site=1 looked at 48 couples in long-term relationships (median 17 months, range 1 month to 12 years). Based on a genetic test and questionnaires, they found that as MHC sharing at three alleles increased, females were less sexually responsive to their partners and reported more sexual partners outside of the relationship. The effect was stronger when the women were in their fertile period and extended from such things as whether a woman found their partner sexy, to how often they rejected a partner's attempts to initiate sex, to how many orgasms they experienced with their partners. MHC sharing didn't predict these behaviors for male partners, interestingly enough. (C.E. Garver-Apgar et al., Psych Sci, 17:830-5, January, 2006.) It's been proposed that women __choose__ MHC-mismatched mates based on scent. In a feature this past September, Nick Atkinson wrote about linkurl:this;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/24522/ as part of a larger story on the linkurl:biological rules of attraction.;http://www.the-scientist.com/2006/9/1/32/1/ Mice can detect MHC profiles in the scent of urine. Women given sweaty tee-shirts have been known to choose the mismatch, and the theory goes that the preference may be an adaptation to suppress inbreeding and/or increase heterozygosity and immune competence in offspring. Men, in the dark when it comes to many things including histocompatibility, just don't seem to have the nose for it.

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