As per a recent study, women and men react differently to infidelity. If your partner has sex with someone else, it is considered infidelity – even if no emotions are involved, but it is also considered infidelity when your significant other develops a close personal relationship with someone else, even if there is no sex or physical intimacy involved.
The Norwegian study shows that men and women react differently to various types of infidelity. Whereas men are most jealous of sexual infidelity, so-called emotional infidelity is what makes women the most jealous. Evolutionary psychology may help explain why this may be.
Men and women’s psychology is similar in most areas – but not when it comes to reproduction, says Mons Bendixen.
Psychology has two contrasting theoretical perspectives on men and women’s emotional responses to infidelity. The first has its roots in cultural gender roles while the other takes an evolutionary psychology perspective.
The first perspective maintains that in a culture with a high degree of equality, men and women interpret the world similarly because of more equality in socialization and gender roles, than is the case in a culture with a low degree of equality. According to this approach, the human mind is largely shaped by the different roles that cultures assign to women and men and the experiences they have in those roles.
The evolutionary perspective is different. According to this approach, men and women over thousands of generations have had to adapt to different challenges that are related to reproduction. Infidelity is one such challenge. A man must decide whether he really is the father of his partner’s child, and if he should choose to invest all his protection and status resources on this child. Since the dawn of time men have grappled with paternity insecurity, since fertilization occurs inside a woman’s body.
According to the evolutionary psychology explanation, men’s jealousy is an emotional reaction to signs of sexual infidelity. The jealousy serves to reduce the chances that his partner is cheating, since he then monitors her more closely.
The greatest threat for the woman is not that the man has sex with other women, but that he spends time and resources on women other than her.
Women today are descendants of women who over thousands of generations have reacted with jealousy to men who sent signals that they were less invested in them. Evolutionary psychologists believe that women are especially sensitive to signs that the man is devoting time and attention to other women.
According to Bendixen, women who were indifferent to whether a man was emotionally attached to other women were more likely to have to take care of the child without his resources. Men who were indifferent to whether the woman had sex with others and who therefore invested resources on other men’s children, ended up passing on fewer of their genes. We are descendants of men and women who have responded appropriately to these threats, says Bendixen.
He adds that neither past experiences with infidelity nor whether we are in a relationship seems to affect men’s and women’s reactions to infidelity.
The cultural gender role perspective believes that jealousy is learned, but we feel confident that these reactions are mechanisms that are part of an evolved human mind, given comparable findings across several nations, Bendixen says.
The study is published in the November 2015 issue of Personality and Individual Differences.