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Sex Differences in Jealousy

Recent research attempts to provide a more nuanced look at the long-held view that men are more jealous of sexual infidelity than emotional infidelity. Christie Nicholson reports

Studies from around the world have reported that men are more jealous of sexual infidelity than emotional infidelity. And women are the opposite—they’re more jealous of emotional cheating than sexual cheating. Experts often lean on an evolutionary cause for this gender difference: Men can never be sure they are the baby-daddy and women are most concerned with securing a genuinely loyal father to care for the children.

Well, authors of a recent study in Psychological Science question the strength of the evolutionary just-so theory—realizing that there are men who find emotional cheating far worse than sexual cheating. The study reports that personality patterns, shaped by one’s relationship history, can have an impact on jealousy.

Over 400 participants took a survey to measure their jealousy type, meaning which troubles them more: sexual or emotional fidelity. Then they completed a test which specifically measures attachment style in relationships (those styles include: secure, fearful, preoccupied and dismissing.)

And they found that 65 percent of those who are autonomous and tend to be dismissive about commitment reported greater stress about sexual cheating than emotional cheating. And 77 percent of those who are more securely attached and committed in relationships found emotional betrayal to be worse than sexual duplicity. 

Even within each sex the results were striking. Dismissive women were four times more likely to report greater sexual jealousy than securely committed women. And dismissive men were 50 times more likely to report sexual jealousy than securely committed men.

So the authors warn: sex differences in jealousy are much more nuanced than a evolutionary explanation might imply.

—Christie Nicholson

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