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Sex differences in jealousy: an evolutionary perspective on online infidelity

Sex Differences in Jealousy:
An Evolutionary Perspective on Online Infidelity
R E. G1 This study examined whether sex differences in jealousy would generalize to onlineinfidelity. Based on the evolutionary psychological explanation for sex differences injealousy (ancestral men’s challenge of paternal uncertainty vs. ancestral women’schallenge of ensuring paternal investment), we expected that men and women wouldperceive online infidelity similarly to conventional infidelity. The experimentaldesign was a 2 (Infidelity Context: online or conventional) ¥ 2 (Participant Sex) ¥ 2(Infidelity Type: emotional vs. sexual) mixed factorial. Participants were 332 (132male, 200 female) undergraduates who completed a questionnaire assessing theirresponses to potential infidelity. As predicted, online and conventional infidelityelicited the same sex difference in jealousy. Implications for social scientists whostudy online behavior are discussed.jasp_674 2636.2655 It is a well established research finding that men and women differ in the extent to which they experience jealousy in response to emotional versussexual infidelity (for reviews, see Buss, Larson, & Westen, 1996; Sagarin,2005). Specifically, men and women are hypothesized to differ in theirresponses to infidelity, depending on the type of infidelity in which theirpartners engage. Men, relative to women, are expected to be more distressedat the thought of their romantic partner engaging in a sexual infidelity ascompared with forming a strong emotional bond with another individual.
Likewise, women, relative to men, are expected to be more distressed byemotional infidelity than sexual infidelity.
This is theorized to stem from ancestral men’s challenge of parental uncertainty and ancestral women’s challenge of ensuring paternal investment(Buss, Larsen, Westen, & Semmelroth, 1992; Daly, Wilson, & Weghorst,1982; Symons, 1979). That is, it is particularly threatening to the survival ofa man’s genes if there is a chance that his partner has become pregnant bysomeone else, whereas it is particularly threatening to the survival of awoman’s genes if there is a chance that her partner is investing his resourcesin the children of another woman. It should be noted that it is neithernecessary nor likely that ancestral women and men were consciously aware of 1Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Rosanna E. Guadagno, Department of Psychology, University of Alabama, P. O. Box 870348, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487- Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2010, 40, 10, pp. 2636–2655.
2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
these threats to their genetic fitness. The reproductive benefits accrued as aresult of the increased jealousy without the need for any awareness of theprocess.
These predicted sex differences in jealousy were supported empirically by Buss et al. (1992), who found a large sex difference among participants whowere asked to choose which option would make them feel more jealous: thethought of their romantic partner having sexual intercourse with someoneelse, or the thought of their romantic partner forming a deep emotionalattachment with someone else. Consistent with predictions, a larger propor-tion of men than women chose the sexual infidelity as more distressing. Theseforced-choice results were replicated in a second study in which men showedsigns of more physiological arousal when imagining their partners havingsexual intercourse with another person, whereas women showed more physi-ological arousal when imaging their partners forming an emotional attach-ment with another person. This sex difference in jealousy has been replicatedin numerous studies, primarily employing Buss et al.’s forced-choice meth-odology (for a meta-analysis, see Harris, 2003).
In addition to examining which type of infidelity makes men and women the most distressed, researchers have also examined specific emotional reac-tions to sexual and emotional infidelity. For instance, Becker, Sagarin,Guadagno, Millevoi, and Nicastle (2004) asked participants to report theamount of jealousy, hurt, anger, and disgust they felt in response to thedifferent types of infidelity. Consistent with the evolutionary psychologicalexplanation for sex differences in jealousy, women reported feeling morejealousy in response to emotional infidelity as compared with sexual infidel-ity; whereas men reported feeling more jealousy in response to sexual infi-delity as compared with emotional infidelity. Different patterns emerged forthe other emotions. Both men and women reported feeling more disgust andanger but less hurt over sexual infidelity as compared with emotional infidel-ity. Finally, participants currently in a committed relationship generallyreported stronger emotional reactions to the prospect of their partners cheat-ing as compared with individuals who were not in a relationship. Overall, theresults of this study support the findings from forced-choice measures andsuggest that jealousy in response to infidelity is a unique response and is notreplicated by other emotions.2 2It should be noted that the evolutionary psychological explanation for sex differences in jealousy is not without its critics. The sex difference appears to be robust and replicable using the forced-choice response format (Harris, 2003), but is more elusive using continuous measures (Harris, 2003, 2005; Sagarin, 2005). In addition, a number of alternative explanations have been proposed, including DeSteno and Salovey’s (1996) double-shot hypothesis (also see Harris & Christenfeld, 1996); DeSteno, Bartlett, Bravermann, and Salovey’s (2002) conclusion that sex differences disappear under cognitive constraint; and Harris’ (2000) critique of Buss et al.’s 2638 GUADAGNO AND SAGARIN
Although there is a large body of research supporting the evolutionary perspective on sex differences in jealousy, no one to date has examinedwhether the ways in which men and women respond to the prospect of theirpartners cheating generalizes to other contexts, such as interactions withpeople online. Clearly, online infidelity differs from conventional infidelity ina number of important ways. Most notably, and most relevant from anevolutionary perspective, a sexu


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