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The Biological and Behavioral Exploration of Why Politicians Cheat

Tara Raju's picture

“Infants have their infancy; adults, adultery” says Professor David P. Barash of the University of Washington (1). With former President Bill Clinton’s Lewinsky Scandal, Senator Larry Craig’s airport foot tapping episode, Governor Jim McGreevy’s confession that he is in fact homosexual and most recently with Governor Eliot Spitzer’s hand caught in the prostitution ring cookie jar, the number of politicians that have committed some form of adultery has dominated the headlines the recent past. But why do these men who have so much at stake, including their careers and family, choose to risk it all? Although there is no way of ever really knowing what these men were thinking when they chose to commit these acts of adultery, there may be a way to gain insight into the their actions by analyzing other organisms who have exhibited the same behavior and also through the thorough investigation of the neurobiology of these individuals that may in fact have been a powerful agent in their decision making process.   


The behavioral patterns of organisms varying from “birds, voles, lesser apes, foxes and any other pair-bonding species” all provide evidence that faithfulness is fantasy (1). It has been estimated by biologists, through the application of DNA paternity tests, that “anywhere from 10 to 70 percent” of the offspring produced by these animals were not fathered by the designated male (1). According to various scientists there is no species in existence, except a flatworm, Diplozoon paradoxum, that is known to have a hundred percent monogamy rate, essentially giving no hope to others on the animal tree, which does includes politicians. The widespread behavioral pattern of possessing little to no faith to a lone partner has been non-evolutionary namely that the same behavior still exists in even the most evolved organisms that possess a developed “I-function” capacity. Humans do in fact exhibit behavior that reflects this non evolutionary behavioral pattern of a failure to adhere to monogamy.


When it comes specifically to the case of politicians, there are obvious differences between the male and female psyche, which is the root of where the problem lies when it comes to having a wandering eye. According to clinical psychologist Nando Pelusi, men tend to crave variation in sexuality more than women do, which has led, in these particular politicians’ cases, to a deviation from monogamy (3). In addition to having this male psyche, politicians are also considered alpha males who produce high levels of testosterone- the very hormone that fuels competitiveness, aggression and of course, sex drive (2).


Moreover, politicians more often than not fit a personality type called “sensation seekers” that “crave novel and intense experiences more than other people do, and, as a part of that, tend to have many sexual partners” (2). These so-called sensation seekers brain activities differ from an average individual in that they have decreased levels of “monoamine oxidase A” which is the key to regulating the brain’s level of dopamine or the “pleasure” neurotransmitter (2). This neurobiological deficiency evident in the brains of these politicians is compensated by experiencing things that are intense or new. They actively seek situations that create thrills and give them an adrenaline rush. More often than not, these politicians are risk takers, a characterization illuminated by Eliot Spitzer’s situation. Spitzer was the very man that tackled crime, corruption and prostitution but ultimately involved himself in a prostitution ring which is by far one of the biggest risks a public figure of his status could take.


Overall, it seems that politicians had it coming from the beginning. With the lack of righteous behavior evident in lesser evolved organisms to the difference in the testosterone levels and the lack of dopamine produced in politicians, the choice that they made to cheat on their significant other was influenced by many a myriad of factors. The brain is a powerful organ that leads men, including Clinton, Craig, McGreevy and Spitzer among others, to make the choices that they did. After all, if infants have their innocence then what do adults have?   (1)Angier, Natalie. In Most Species, Faithfulness Is a Fantasy- New York Times. 18 March 2008. 6 April 2008 <>.(2) Carmichael, Mary. The Cheating Man's Brain. 12 March 2008. 6 April 2008 <>.(3) WNYC- The Brian LehrerShow: Inside men. 12 March 2008. 6 April 2008 <>.   


Paul Grobstein's picture

men and infidelity

Isn't there pretty strong evidence for infidelity in females (human and otherwise) as well?