How religion promotes confidence about paternity

Jun 04, 2012
Image: University of Michigan

Religious practices that strongly control female sexuality are more successful at promoting certainty about paternity, according to a study published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study analyzed on 1,706 father-son pairs in a traditional —the Dogon people of Mali, West Africa—in which Islam, two types of Christianity, and an indigenous, monotheistic religion are practiced in the same families and villages.

"We found that the indigenous religion allows males to achieve a significantly lower probability of cuckoldry—1.3 percent versus 2.9 percent," said Beverly Strassmann, lead author of the article and a biological anthropologist at the University of Michigan.

In the traditional religion, menstrual taboos are strictly enforced, with women exiled for five nights to uncomfortable menstrual huts. According to Strassmann, the religion uses the ideology of pollution to ensure that women honestly signal their fertility status to men in their husband's family.

"When a woman resumes going to the menstrual hut following her last birth, the husband's patrilineage is informed of the imminency of conception and cuckoldry risk," Strassmann said. "Precautions include postmenstrual copulation initiated by the husband and enhanced vigilance by his family."

Across all four of the religions practiced by the Dogon people, Strassmann and colleagues detected father-son Y DNA mismatches in only 1.8 percent of father-son pairs, a finding that contradicts the prevailing view that traditional populations have high rates of cuckoldry. A similar rate of cuckoldry has been found in several modern populations, but a key difference is that the Dogon do not use contraception.

The study, which was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, is part of Strassmann's ongoing, 26-year study of the Dogon people.

"The major world religions sprang from patriarchal societies in which the resources critical to reproduction, whether in the form of land or livestock, were inherited from father to son down the male line," Strassmann and colleagues write. "Consistent with patrilineal inheritance, the sacred texts set forth harsh penalties for adultery and other behaviors that lower the husband's probability of . The scriptures also place greater emphasis on female than on male chastity, including the requirement of modest attire for women and the idealization of virginity for unmarried females."

While previous studies have examined the evolutionary biology of patriarchy through primate antecedents or cultural factors, the current study is the first to investigate whether religions that more strongly regulate female sexuality are more successful at limiting the incidence of cuckoldry.

"Although world religions do not have menstrual huts, they do share many tenets that may foster cuckoldry avoidance," the authors write. "For example, in Judaism, menstrual purity laws increase coital frequency around the time of ovulation. In Islam, paternity confusion is prevented by the Qur'an's rule that, after divorce, a woman must wait for three menstrual periods before remarrying. The Hindu text, 'The Laws of Manu,' admonishes against cuckoldry or 'sowing in another man's field.'

"Strong statements against adultery and extramarital children are found in the Bible and, in Buddhism, adultery is a form of sexual misconduct. In preventing cuckoldry, religions use the dual strategy of social control in the public sphere (attendance at a place of worship or at a menstrual hut) and the fear of divine or supernatural punishment. In the United States, frequent church attendance and belief that the Bible is the word of God were the two most robust predictors of lower rates of self-reported extra-partner copulations."

In short, Strassmann and colleagues maintain that the ideological and tactical similarities between these world religions and the Dogon religion have arisen in response to the same biological pressures. Religious patriarchy is directly analogous to the mate-guarding tactics used by animals to ensure paternity.

Explore further: Personalized advertising attracts more attention, makes the contents of ads easier to remember

Related Stories

How should we interpret spiritual experiences?

May 09, 2008

Religious practices and religions involving spiritual experiences are growing in popularity around the globe. Academics too are turning their study to the practices of these religions. The interest is in understanding shamanism, ...

Multiple fathers prevalent in Amazonian cultures

Nov 10, 2010

In modern culture, it is not considered socially acceptable for married people to have extramarital sexual partners. However, in some Amazonian cultures, extramarital sexual affairs were common, and people believed that when ...

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

Dec 18, 2014

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

Dec 18, 2014

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

User comments : 13

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Matt_J_
2.7 / 5 (7) Jun 04, 2012
Doesn't saying that it is analogous to mate-guarding tactics used by animals ignore the fact that as religion developed women were viewed as property and their children were either a liability that you will pay to get rid of (females and dowries) or an heir to the fathers assets. Lower animals just want to ensure that their genes are passed on.

I would agree that humans share this desire unconsciously, but I would posit that the conscious protection of assets from others is a much much stronger force to create institutions to protect those assets.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (20) Jun 04, 2012
"The major world religions sprang from patriarchal societies in which the resources critical to reproduction, whether in the form of land or livestock, were inherited from father to son down the male line,"

-More important than property of course is the male genetic imperative not to waste time and resources pursuing and supporting females who might already be carrying someone elses child.

A tribe engaged in endemic warfare would also have a concerted interest in ensuring that its most skilled warriors take precedence in reproductive rights.

Interesting that the article mentions religion and paternity. I just finished watching a documentary 'The Bible Unearthed' based on finkelsteins book. one of the first points they chose to make is how the biblical patriarchs abraham, issac, and jacob were not related, but were cobbled together from totally separate legends, in order supposedly to present a common lineage for the peoples of the levant.
http://www.youtub...0bxhn1qA
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (19) Jun 04, 2012
as religion developed women were viewed as property and their children were either a liability that you will pay to get rid of (females and dowries) or an heir to the fathers assets.
As all the surviving religions were successful because they were able to grow and replace battle losses faster by maximizing their reproductive rates, the restriction of women solely to the process of making and raising children, of both sexes, is obviously a very important aspect of this process.

They wanted both warriors and warrior-makers in abundance. 'Arrows in the hand of a warrior' as the bible puts it. Which alone can explain the mess that religion-dominated regions of the world are in today.
kaasinees
2.1 / 5 (7) Jun 04, 2012
So basically saying, religious people are perverted.
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2012
Agreed.

However, I notice that the actual meaning of "cuckold", as applied in this article, has been significantly perverted.

There is a big diference between an unfaithful wife and that unfaithfulness resulting in a child of questionable paternity.

I find this lack of precision to be extremely irritating. The article would not have suffered any reduction in clarity if the misapplied term had been left out entirely. In fact, it would most likely exhibit greater clarity absent the term.

Telekinetic
5 / 5 (4) Jun 04, 2012
I would speculate that religion in this case is merely the codification of primordial impulses. The same tensions and jealousies exist in group settings where religion isn't necessarily a focus, like a commune, cooperative farm, or a group of squatters- it's more deep-seated in human nature and far-reaching than fables passed down for generations. Religion serves as an armature to hang superstitions, fears, and rewards for suffering on. But rigidity itself exists in secular scenarios; it's common to find patriarchs without religious affiliation ruling with an iron hand. The real crime is sexual repression, where clitoridectomies are still widely performed all over the world. Robbing women of the means for sexual pleasure ensures that they won't be promiscuous. Men are sick beasts, yet no one listens.
Matt_J_
5 / 5 (3) Jun 04, 2012
@Caliban: I often see comments on Phys.Org about the quality of the summaries but I always cut the authors of these summaries a lot of slack. It is my understanding that the authors are required to read and post summaries of several papers a day (on the order of 10 if I remember correctly). So Phys.Org has decided for us that we value quantity over quality. I really only expect to get a broad overview of any paper reported on Phys.Org and overlook lack of clarity on the details.

That being said... I agree with your comment completely.
Anda
5 / 5 (2) Jun 05, 2012
What an interesting article... Just what i'm expecting to read in a science site... :(
Mike_Massen
2 / 5 (4) Jun 05, 2012
Supported by history no doubt Anda and not reliant on "Voices in the Head" of any deity that cannot communicate effectively, as the bulk of psychologists and neurologists would observe ;-)
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (14) Jun 05, 2012
I would speculate that religion in this case is merely the codification of primordial impulses. The same tensions and jealousies exist in group settings
You are talking about TRIBALISM. Tribes which could produce higher levels of trust internally could be expected to prevail over others in conflict. This was selected for. Squabbles over repro rights would be expected to weaken tribal cohesion.
http://rechten.el...RID2.pdf
Vendicar Dickarian
1.7 / 5 (6) Jun 05, 2012
"We found that the indigenous religion allows males to achieve a significantly lower probability of cuckoldry1.3 percent versus 2.9 percent," said Beverly Strassmann, lead author of the article...


The researcher and I would tend to disagree on the use of the term "significantly" here. Essentially, we're talking about an activity rate that was already very low (around 3%). Even assuming that they can somehow isolate the "religious" component involved in the ultra-complex study of any human interaction at the society level (and I'm pessimistic at best about their chances of doing this), knocking the probability down from 2.9 to 1.3% does not register as a "significant" reduction IMO.
Vendicar Dickarian
1 / 5 (3) Jun 05, 2012
Agreed.

However, I notice that the actual meaning of "cuckold", as applied in this article, has been significantly perverted.

There is a big diference between an unfaithful wife and that unfaithfulness resulting in a child of questionable paternity.

I find this lack of precision to be extremely irritating. The article would not have suffered any reduction in clarity if the misapplied term had been left out entirely. In fact, it would most likely exhibit greater clarity absent the term.



The writer and the research team have used the term appropriately, in reference to the religion's value in deterring adultery.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2012
I wonder what the next 50 years of evolution of religion will offer, or rather, the next 10 years as clearly Jesus is already rather overdue, it has been suggested the real 2000 year time frame was around 1985 or so due to calendar errors by popes etc.

I wonder therefore, is there some poor slob in an insane asylum rotting away because he repeated much of what Jesus said so long ago - or is reputed to have said - as the good record keeping of the Roman authorities of the time doesn't concur with the writings of 3 disciples some 50 - 100 years after Jesus 'rose' or died according to hysterical women as stated. I think we devalue hysterical women way to much, especially those thrown out of discos & casinos for 'personal commercial incentives' ;-)

I know of a (female) biomed student suggesting its ok to break someone's legs to see if they are dead or not, as suggested in the culture (bible) of the time Jesus was alive.

Where are the religious fanatics when you need them ;-)

(sigh)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.