While it has been noted that women cannot digest emotional infidelity and men fail to accept sexual infidelity, new research has suggested that this difference in jealousy goes beyond gender differences.
The researchers said that such differences have more to do with how two people are attached in a relationship. Research has documented that most men become much more jealous about sexual infidelity than they do about emotional infidelity and women are the opposite. The prevailing theory is that the difference has evolutionary origins, men learned over eons to be hyper-vigilant about sex because they can never be absolutely certain they are the father of a child, while women are much more concerned about having a partner who is committed to raising a family.
But now, new study has offered an alternative explanation. The research does not question the fundamental gender difference regarding jealousy, indeed it adds additional support for that difference. But the new science suggests that the difference may be rooted more in individual differences in personality that result from one’s relationship history but that can fall along gender lines.
Pennsylvania State University psychological scientists Kenneth Levy and Kristen Kelly doubted the prevailing evolutionary explanation because there is a conspicuous subset of men who like most women find emotional betrayal more distressing than sexual infidelity. The researchers suspected that it might have to do with trust and emotional attachment. Some people, men and women alike, are more secure in their attachments to others, while others tend to be more dismissive of the need for close attachment relationships. Psychologists see this compulsive self-reliance as a defensive strategy-protection against deep-seated feelings of vulnerability.
The researchers hypothesized that these individuals would tend to be concerned with the sexual aspects of relationships rather than emotional intimacy. They asked men and women which they would find more distressing-sexual infidelity or emotional infidelity. Participants also completed additional assessments including a standard and well validated measure of attachment style in romantic relationships.
Findings confirmed the scientists’ hypotheses. Those with a dismissing attachment style, who prize their autonomy in relationships over commitment, were much more upset about sexual infidelity than emotional infidelity. And on the other hand, those securely attached in relationships, including securely attached men were much more likely to find emotional betrayal more upsetting. The scientists state that these findings imply that the psychological and cultural-environmental mechanisms underlying sex differences in jealousy may have greater roles than previously recognized and suggest that jealousy is more multiply determined than previously hypothesized.