Sex Differences in Jealousy

Another difference between the sexes in the nature of the adaptive problems they have faced stems from the fact that fertilization occurs internally (and unseen) within women. This means that, over human evolutionary history , men have risked investing in children who were not their own. Few women, however , have ever been uncertain about which children were their own. From this perspective, the most reproductively damaging act, from an ancestral man's point of view, would have been if his mate had had a pregnancy through sexual intercourse with another man. That is the act that would have jeopardized his certainty of passing on his genes.

From an ancestral woman's point of view, however, the fact that her mate was having sex with another woman, by itself, would not jeopardize her certainty in that she is the mother of her own children. Such an infidelit , however, could be extremely risky to the woman's reproductive success: she could risk losing her mate's resources, time, commitment, and investment, all of which could be diverted to another woman.

For these reasons, evolutionary psychologists have predicted that men and women should differ in the weighting they give to cues that trigger jealousy . Specificall , men have been predicted to become more jealous than women in response to cues to a sexual infidelit . Women have been predicted to become more jealous than men in response to cues to the long-term diversion of a mate' s commitment, such as emotional involvement with someone else. To test these predictions, participants were put in an agonizing dilemma, which you can participate in as well. Take a look at the Exercise that follows.

Exercise

Think of a serious, committed romantic relationship that you had in the past, that you

currently have, or that you would like to have. Imagine that you discover that the per

son with whom you've been seriously involved has become interested in someone else.

Of the following, what would distress or upset you more?

1. Imagining your partner forming a deep emotional attachment to that

person.

2. Imagining your partner enjoying passionate sexual intercourse with that

other person.

Figure 8.5

Percentage reporting more distress to sexual infidelity than to emotional or love infideli . A large sex difference is found, with far more men than women reporting more distress to sexual infidelit , and the overwhelming majority of women reporting more distress to emotional or love infidelit . Source: From Buss, D. M., Larsen, R., Westen, D., & Semmelroth, J. (1992). "Sex differences in jealousy: Evolution, physiology, and psychology," Psychological Science, 3, 251-255, fig. 1, top panel, p. 252. Copyright 1992 Blackwell Publishers UK. Reprinted by permission.

Figure 8.5

Percentage reporting more distress to sexual infidelity than to emotional or love infideli . A large sex difference is found, with far more men than women reporting more distress to sexual infidelit , and the overwhelming majority of women reporting more distress to emotional or love infidelit . Source: From Buss, D. M., Larsen, R., Westen, D., & Semmelroth, J. (1992). "Sex differences in jealousy: Evolution, physiology, and psychology," Psychological Science, 3, 251-255, fig. 1, top panel, p. 252. Copyright 1992 Blackwell Publishers UK. Reprinted by permission.

As shown in Figure 8.5, men are far more distressed than women when imagining their partners having sexual intercourse with someone else (Buss et al., 1992). The overwhelming majority of women, in contrast, are more distressed when imagining their partners becoming emotionally involved with someone else. This does not mean that women are indif ferent to their partners' sexual infidelities or that men ar indifferent to their partners' emotional infidelities—far from it. Both events upset bot sexes. However, when forced to choose which one is more upsetting, a lar ge sex difference emerges, precisely as predicted by the evolutionary hypothesis of sex dif fer-ences in the nature of the adaptive problems. These results also show up in measures of physiological distress (Buss et al., 1992; Pietrzak, Laird, Stevens, & Thompson, 2002). When imagining partners having sex with someone else, men' s heart rate goes up five beats per minutes, which is like drinking three cups of co fee at one time. Their skin conductance increases, and their frown response is visible. Women, in contrast, show greater physiological distress at imagining their partners becoming emotionally involved with someone else.

Are these sex dif ferences found across cultures? Thus far, researchers have replicated these sex differences in Germany, the Netherlands, and Korea (Buunk et al., 1996),

Figure 8.6

Sex differences in jealousy across four cultures. In all four cultures, more men than women are distressed about imagining a partner's sexual infidelity; most women are more distressed by a partner s emotional infidelit . Source: From Buunk, A. P., Angleitner, A., Oubaid, V., & Buss, D. M. (1996). "Sex differences in jealousy in evolutionary and cultural perspective: Tests from the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States," Psychological Science, 7, 359-363, fig. 1, p. 361. Copyright 1996 Blackwell Publishers UK. Reprinted by permission.

Figure 8.6

Sex differences in jealousy across four cultures. In all four cultures, more men than women are distressed about imagining a partner's sexual infidelity; most women are more distressed by a partner s emotional infidelit . Source: From Buunk, A. P., Angleitner, A., Oubaid, V., & Buss, D. M. (1996). "Sex differences in jealousy in evolutionary and cultural perspective: Tests from the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States," Psychological Science, 7, 359-363, fig. 1, p. 361. Copyright 1996 Blackwell Publishers UK. Reprinted by permission.

as shown in Figure 8.6. Other researchers have replicated these sex dif ferences in Korea and Japan (Buss et al., 1999). The sex differences in jealousy appear to be robust across a range of cultures.

Not every psychologist agrees with the evolutionary explanation. DeSteno and Salovey (1996) have proposed that men and women dif fer in their "beliefs" about sexual and emotional involvement. When a man thinks that his partner is becoming sexually involved with a rival, for example, he might also think that his partner will also be getting emotionally involved with him—a so-called double shot of infidelit . The reason men get more upset about sexual rather than emotional infidelit , DeSteno and Salovey argue, is not because men are really more jealous about sexual infidelity it's because men "believe" that a sexual infidelity will result in the double shot o infidelit , which includes emotional infidelit .

Women, DeSteno and Salovey ar gue, have dif ferent beliefs, although they fail to explain why. Women believe in a reverse double-shot, that if their partners become emotionally involved with a rival, they will also become sexually involved. It' s women's beliefs about this double shot of infidelity that upsets them, DeSteno an Salovey argue, and not that women really are more upset about an emotional betrayal.

The evolutionary explanation opposes the double-shot explanation. Given the large sex differences stemming from fundamental differences in reproductive biology, according to evolutionary psychologists, it would be unlikely for selection to have failed to produce psychological sex dif ferences about the two forms of infidelit . The hard hand of data, however, usually settles scientific disagreements. Buss and his col leagues (1999) conducted four empirical studies in three dif ferent cultures to pit the predictions of evolutionary theory against the predictions of the double-shot hypothesis. One of the studies involved 1,122 participants from a liberal arts college in the southeastern United States. The researchers asked them to imagine their partners becoming interested in someone else and asked: What would upset or distress you more: (a) imagining your partner forming a deep emotional (but not sexual) relationship with that person? or (b) imagining your partner enjoying a sexual (but not emotional) relationship with that person? The men and women differed by roughly 35 percent in their responses, precisely as predicted by the evolutionary model. The women continued to express greater upset about a partner's emotional infidelit , even if it did not involve sex. The men continued to show more upset than the women about a partner's sexual infidelit , even if it did not involve emotional involvement. If the doubleshot hypothesis were the correct explanation for the initial sex dif ferences that were found, then the sex dif ference should have disappeared when the sexual and emotional components of infidelity were isolated. It did not

In a second study of 234 women and men (Buss et al., 1999), the researchers used a different strategy for pitting the competing hypotheses against each other. They asked participants to imagine that their worst nightmare had occurred—that their partners had become both sexually and emotionally involved with someone else. They then asked the participants to state which aspect they found more upsetting. The results were conclusive. The researchers found large sex differences, precisely as predicted by the evolutionary explanation—63 percent of the men but only 13 percent of the women found the sexual aspect of the infidelity to be most upsetting. In con trast, 87 percent of the women, but only 37 percent of the men, found the emotional aspect of the infidelity to be most upsetting. No matter how the questions wer worded, no matter which method was used, the same sex dif ference emerged in every test. Several other scientists have now confirmed these results using somewhat dif ferent methods and dif ferent cultures, such as Sweden (e.g., Wiederman & Kendall, 1999). Wiederman and Kendall concluded that, "contrary to the double-shot explanation, choice of scenario was unrelated to attitudes regarding whether the other gender was capable of satisfying sexual relations outside of a love relationship" (p. 121).

These and similar sex differences have now been replicated in China, Germany , the Netherlands, Korea, Sweden, Japan, England, and Romania (Brase, Caprar , & Voracek, 2004). The cross-cultural findings provide support for the theory that thes are universal sex dif ferences. The double-shot theory cannot explain why these sex differences are universal. Based on the available evidence, the double-shot theory has failed to be supported both from the cross-cultural findings and from the studies tha test its predictions in direct competition with those from the evolutionary theory .

Despite the fact that the sex dif ferences in the weighting given to the triggers of jealousy have been well documented across cultures using a variety of methods ranging from memorial recall ofjealous episodes (e.g., Schutzwohl & Koch, 2004) to physiological recordings (Pietrzak et al., 2002), the findings continue to be chal lenged (e.g., Harris, 2000; De Steno, Bartlett, Salovey, & Braverman, 2002). After the belief theory of sex dif ferences in jealousy was repeatedly disproved, however , its original authors appear to have abandoned it entirely . Instead, they've changed their position and now ar gue not for an alternative theory , but rather for the idea that sex differences in jealousy are merely an artifact of experimental conditions (DeSteno et al., 2002). These researchers placed participants under conditions of "high cognitive load" with an extremely distracting task and then found that under these conditions, the usual sex dif ferences failed to appear. This is like dangling a hungry person over a cliff with the threat of a drop to death and then discovering that "humans don' t experience hunger." All effects can be made to disappear by providing overwhelming distracting experimental stimuli. Indeed, researchers have concluded that "cognitive load" manipulations are poor methods for testing evolutionary hypotheses about jealousy using the scenario paradigm (Barrett, Frederick, & Haselton, in press).

The new attempt to dismiss the sex dif ferences in jealousy as "experimental artifact" does not hold up when faced with the many studies that have found the sex differences using a variety of dif ferent methods. In a recent ingenious study, for example, Schutzwohl and Koch (2004) used an entirely new method that has never been used in jealousy research. They had participants listen to a story about their own romantic relationship in which an infidelity was said to have occurred. Embedded within th story were five cues that had been previously determined to be cues highly diagnosti of sexual infidelit (e.g., He suddenly has dif ficulty becoming sexually aroused whe you and he want to have sex) and five cues highly diagnostic of emotional infidelit (e.g., He doesn't respond any more when you tell him that you love him). In a surprise recall test a week later, men spontaneously remembered more cues to sexual than to emotional infidelity (42 percent versus 29 percent), whereas women remembere more cues to emotional than to sexual infidelity (40 percent versus 24 percent). These findings support the hypothesis that sex di ferences in jealousy are quite real, and cannot be dismissed as an "experimental artifact" (Schutzwohl & Koch, 2004).

The gold standard in science is independent replication, and by this criterion, the evolutionary explanation has fared well. After each challenge, additional research by independent scientists has continued to find support for the existence of sex di ferences in jealousy and the evolutionary explanations for them (e.g., Brase, Caprar , & Voracek, 2004; Buss & Haselton, 2005; Cann, Mangum, & Wells, 2001; Dijkstra & Buunk, 2001; Fenigstein & Pelz, 2002; Geary et al., 2001; Murphy et al., 2006; Pietrzak et al., 2002; Sagarin, 2005; Sagarin et al., 2003; Schutzwohl & Koch, 2004; Shackelford, Buss, & Bennett, 2002; Shackelford et al., 2004; Strout, Laird, Shafer , & Thompson, 2005).

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