What are the goals of this project?
What is responsible for the “chemistry” that people sometimes experience when they meet a potential mate? I posit that an unseen force, that is, genetic-compatibility, may play a role in human attraction. This project aims to examine the possible role of genetic compatibility in human mate selection through a unique methodology--speed-dating.
Specifically, I am asking the following two research questions:
(1) Does genetic compatibility play a role in whom we are attracted to and choose to date?
(2) Do oral contraceptives reverse women's genetically-based mate preferences?
Previous research suggests that genetic compatibility via major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes may play an important role in human mate selection (e.g., Chaix et al., 2008; Santos et al., 2005; Wedekind et al., 1995). MHC genes code for peptides that defend against pathogens (Lie et al., 2010). Diversity in MHC alleles resulting from MHC-dissimilar parents may thus increase the immunocompetence of offspring (Penn et al., 2002).
Several studies suggest that normally-ovulating women may be more attracted to men who are more MHC-dissimilar (e.g., Garver-Apgar et al, 2006; Wedekind et al, 1995). However, the detection system for MHC-dissimilarity can be disrupted by oral contraceptives, which are now used by 60% of sexually-active female undergraduates (Huber & Ersek, 2009). Oral contraceptives have been found in several studies to reverse women's mate preferences, such that women on the pill prefer the scent of men who are more MHC-similar rather than MHC-dissimilar (Penn & Potts, 1999; Roberts et al., 2008; Wedekind et al., 1995).
Why is this research important?
Because MHC-similarity between partners has been linked to poorer health outcomes, such as lower birthweight of offspring (Reznikoff-Etievant et al., 1991) and higher rates of miscarriages (Ho et al., 1990; Koyama et al., 1991; Laitinen, 1993), it is important to examine whether MHC-based attraction may play a tangible role in real world mate choice. My research uses a speed-dating design in which participants' mate choices have real-life consequences. If use of oral contraceptives is associated with mate preferences, couples should be informed before making decisions regarding their use.
How will the funds be used?
Your donations will go entirely towards the genotyping of participants' DNA samples. In return I will keep you updated on my progress with this research, and send you all publications and poster presentations that arise from the project.
Thank you for your support!