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Othello Syndrome

Human jealousy exists in various forms, with the form that I am considering being the jealousy between sexual partners and then only if there is a state of delusional jealousy. Jealousy is very common in relationships and has been documented around the world in various cultures and historical periods. The behaviours associated with it are numerous and include aggression and violence, as well as attempts to maintain the relationship. Delusions of jealousy or delusions of infidelity is where an individual is concerned that their partner is being unfaithful to them, and they have been found in a wide range of disorders. Less severe forms of jealousy exist and can have other types of psychopathological structure. As jealousy relates to sexual partners, there is the possibility that there is an evolutionary explanation for jealousy and hence delusional jealousy. I shall review various aspects of jealousy before analysing various case reports of delusional jealousy, to determine if there is some basis to the evolutionary model


How do we define jealousy? There are many definitions that have been produced; it arises when we are concerned that others may violate our exclusive sexual access to our mates (Wilson 1992) or being ‘Fearful or wary of being supplanted; apprehensive of loss of position or affection’ (Wilson 1995). The essence is that we are fearful that our partner may stray or that other individuals are interested. Whether such a situation is real or not, is probably irrelevant and when it does develop, jealousy can result in the production of various behaviours in both the person experiencing it and the person who is the object of the jealous emotion itself.


Jealousy has been described as an emotion, but there are additional elements such as hatred or envy toward a supposed rival, as well as requiring this rival to act in a particular way, and it can also invoke elements of a wider social network (Schützwohl 2008). In the past in some culture’s jealousy was viewed as preserving marriages, but now it does not have this positive element attached to it. Some say there are three forms of jealousy: the delusional, the obsessional and depressive forms. The chances are that there is a continuum of jealousy ranging from the obsessional to the delusional (Agarwal 2007), with delusional jealousy presumably lying at the extreme of such a continuum. Sufferers may experience pre-morbid jealousy, possessiveness and suspicion and it usual for the jealousy to be directed toward one person only. The object is frequently harassed, despite protests, anger, etc. and often the partner presents to health professionals with problems (Munro 1999b).


It can develop suddenly, they may be worried about the partner’s infidelity which can often be triggered by innocuous stimuli, e.g., looking at someone. It arises in several other contexts such as an alteration of moods, when there are relationship difficulties, etc and it is also associated with fear, anger, worry, sadness, bitterness, regret and disgust. Such concerns may hijack the person’s cognitive resources so that jealousy is constantly on their mind (Schützwohl 2008). Interestingly people seem to have an inbuilt system to detect those who cheat, and it may be in the temporal lobe and amygdala, as the faces of cheaters are remembered better than the faces of those who don’t! (Chiappe 2004).


There is some evidence of gender specific patterns to jealousy, e.g., those with feminine or masculine characteristics may respond in female-specific and male-specific ways regardless of sex. There also does not appear to be a relationship between jealousy and age, with duration and satisfaction with relationships, although the unmarried tend to be more jealous and they may use more destructive behaviours (Andaç 2006). Jealousy maybe directed to cues of fertility and not fertility itself and may relate to female fertility being hidden (Wilson 1995, Stieglitz 2012). Investigation of the Morbid Jealousy Database found males tended to get jealous if there was sexual infidelity and women got jealous if there was emotional infidelity (Easton 2007). Men are more likely to have delusional jealousy (Soyka 2011), with this being found in Pakistani schizophrenics (Suhail 2003) and Indian outpatients with delusional disorder (Hebbar 1999). Whilst women may be more likely to have sexual delusions (Lucas 1959; 1962) or feeling that their sexual organs were affect (Suhail 2003).


I shall describe some the research involving jealousy as performed on various populations and patient groups. There seems to be very little actually performed in those with delusional jealousy, but studies of normal jealousy may help the study of delusional jealousy

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