Thursday, November 13, 2008

The gay reproductive advantage

I recently spotted an interesting article about homosexuality in The Economist. The article describes a new theory which tries to explain why the genes that cause homosexuality have survived in the population. If you think about this it's a bit of a mystery, because genes that make parenthood less likely should gradually eliminate themselves from the gene pool over the long periods of time, so the genetic expectation is that gay people shouldn't exist. However, the new idea is that the genes that make people gay also confer reproductive advantages as long as they do not push the individual possessing them all the way to homosexuality.

For example, apparently personality tests show that gay men rank higher than straight men in standardised tests for agreeableness, expressiveness, conscientiousness, openness to experience and neuroticism. Further data suggest that having a more feminine personality might indeed give a heterosexual male an advantage, because women can be attracted to those with feminine traits such as tenderness, considerateness and kindness, because such men make better carers and providers.

For me, this theory has a ring of truth about it. After all, in my experience, it's not uncommon to hear single women say that all the men they fancy are either already married or gay!


Stairs said...

Nearly a decade ago, a primate behavioural study revealed that the offspring of animals with gay siblings tended to fare better than average as a result of the greater care and attention they received from their doting gay aunts and uncles who weren't preoccupied with raising their own offspring. Though of course behavioural dynamics will differ in our species, it does tie in with what you read quite nicely.

Ken Skinner said...

That would suggest that 'we' are the flower of the gay genetic tree... or the cool fresh spring ascending from an underground lake...

As long as the well doesn't run dry...

It still doesn't answer the fundamental question of 'why' in the first place.

I've seen a lot of rather worrying stuff lately from people who are very pro-gay on the surface and want to accept a genetic basis for homosexuality... so that it can be classed as a disorder and cured through medication or even in utero.

(Note to self: must watch Xmen again)

I tend to hold onto the belief that while we still don't know exactly what purpose gay people serve in nature that we're here for a reason and to go around 'fixing' us would be a bad, bad idea (not least of which for us!)

Embrace diversity, not uniformity!

Unknown said...

Isn't it about time someone protested about describing tenderness, considerateness and kindness as "feminine traits" or as a man's "feminine side"? The implication is that somehow such traits are not authentically a man's but are kind of borrowed from women or represwent some sort of peripheral imitation of women. What dreadful stereotyping.

Paul Brownsey

Jay said...

go gays :)

Anonymous said...

"because genes that make parenthood likely should gradually eliminate themselves from the gene pool" - "less likely" ?

There's a very simple explanation for the survival of gay genes (whatever they may be) and it's that exclusive gay relationships barely existed in the past (and don't exist in many societies today). Producing sprogs is what men were expected to do and do it they did.

Anonymous said...

Well, another way to look at it is that gay uncle and aunties can:
1) provide additional care
2) hunt for food, while not tending to a brood
3) protect territories

Anonymous said...

1. I think that you must mean that "genes that make parenthood" LESS "likely should gradually eliminate themselves from the gene pool"

2. Fascinating idea in general

GB said...

The Economist article does mention the aunt and uncle idea Alastair (and first anonymous commentator). But like the article says, surely that won't provide sufficient advantage to explain the phenomenon? Anyway Alastair, what happened to that nice butch nice pic that you used to have on your profile?

I like your idea of the cool fresh spring Kenski :-). But surely any misguided fix wouldn't affect any of us, although it would obviously reduce the diversity of future generations.

I hadn't though of that P.Brownsey, but you're obviously right!

Go Jay :).

And special thanks to bababing and the second anonymous commentator because the original version of this post left out the word 'less' in the phrase "genes that make parenthood less likely". I've corrected it now!

GB xxx

Mind Of Mine said...

Is this not another argument for nature vs Nurture?

Interesting post though

Anonymous said...

What a load of old rubbish. The idea that gay men are more considerate, tender and kind than straight people is a myth created as a byproduct of homophobia. It's no more true than that there is a gene for homosexuality. And it certainly isn't true in my personal experience - gay men exhibit the same range of diversity as straight people do. Is it just possible that the bitter queen is a stereotype too ?

Anonymous said...

As if every instance of every behavior must somehow contribute to an advantage in the scheme of natural selection. Stop looking and longing for justification. The entire human experiment is barely a blip in the timeline of evolution. The apparent ascendancy of homo (pun intended) sapiens in the food chain is a self-serving view of things.