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Gender Difference in Jealousy


Mating may have a gender specific pattern, regarding mating and resources, which may relate to differing evolutionary reproductive pressures. Males giving gifts has been interpreted as an inducement for sexual access and females sometimes engage in sex to gain access to resources by males. One study found that trade was used to obtain sex in undergraduate psychologists, with men aiming for sex and women aiming for resources, with participants reporting that others tended to approach them. More male participants traded investment for sex and more females traded sex for investment. In couplings initiated by others, more females reported someone wanted to trade investment for sex and more males reported sex being traded for investment. Males tended to promise more than hint at resource allocation and were more likely to have sex when others-initiated sex for trade. Relationships sometimes did develop but not often (Kruger 2008). These patterns may be more relevant in more ancient or poor communities as the participants tended to be socially well of. But there are costs to short term mating such as potential violence from rivals, jealousy, diseases, etc. and so this needs to be factored into evolutionary theories (Schmitt 2008).


There is also abundant evidence of males favouring short term mating’s, this would increase the chances of fathering children and men ideally would like more partners than women, they copulate more frequently, etc. But women must engage in short term mating, otherwise it would never have been selected for. But why as the costs to reputation and having to raise a child are higher? This may be because of greater access to resources from such mating’s and having access to mates who are genetically better than current mates. This in turn may have led to males engaging in counter measures (see earlier section on mate poaching) (Buss 2007). Despite negative public attitudes to extra pair copulation, it is very common. From an evolutionary point of view, men may do it to have more offspring (especially if symmetric) and women may do it for genetically superior children. For women not on the pill it may be commoner in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, which may correspond to women being more sensitive to good mate cues at this time. Though the cost of being found out and losing resources, mates, etc. is working against this process (Koehler 2007).


When given several scenarios, men reported more jealousy and responded faster to cues of sexual infidelity. Women responded faster than men and tended to worry about emotional infidelity and reacted faster than women choosing sexual infidelity. Evolutionary theory suggests men respond more to sexual, whilst women respond more to emotional infidelity. Hence, we should react faster to such cues. Women may direct their jealousy toward the rival for both infidelities. When looking at female emotional infidelity and male sexual infidelity (i.e., the secondary infidelity types) then the proportions of men and women directing their jealousy toward the rival were about the same. This was done on a forced choice measure, but when using a continuous Likert measure males tended to direct jealousy to their partners, with women directing jealousy toward the rivals for both sexual and emotional infidelity. Men were just as likely to direct jealousy toward their partners or the suspected rival (Schützwohl 2004).


When asked to imagine that rivals were pursuing their partners, most women and about half of the men directed their jealousy at rivals. This was pronounced in females for emotional and for males with sexual infidelity. This was found in those in relationships and in those who had been unfaithful themselves, e.g., women directed their jealousy toward rivals regardless of the infidelity. In faithful men and women there was no difference in the proportions directing their jealousy to rivals with cues of sexual and emotional infidelity (Schützwohl 2008).


Further gender differences were seen in people reactions to infidelity. Undergraduate students were presented with several forced choice measures of jealousy and asked about forgiveness. When it came to sexual infidelity, men were more upset when they imagined their partners trying sexual positions with someone else, found it harder to forgive and more likely to end a relationship. Men were more likely to be unforgiving for the sexual as opposed to the emotional infidelity and to be more likely to break up (Shackelford 2002b).


When asked to imagine the infidelity of others we may react more to circumstances that affect our genetic relatives. People may be more upset by a sister in law’s sexual infidelity and a brother in law’s emotional infidelity. Possibly relating to paternal uncertainty of the brother’s children and with reductions in the sister’s access to resources. Heterosexual females tend to be more upset if they imagine their partners with their mother, sisters or daughters, while heterosexual men tend to be upset if they imagine their partner being unfaithful with their father, brothers or sons. Imagining their partners with first degree relatives was more distressing than for second- or third-degree relatives. When imagining emotional infidelity there was greater distress if people imagined their partner with a first degree relative. Distress caused by imagining sexual interest being shown to their mate by a family member was greater if it was coming from same sex parents, a sibling or child, with distress being greater for first degree relatives. When imagining sexual interest towards someone else’s partner who differed in genetic relatedness, males would tend to be more unfaithful. But the distress engendered rose as we went from the partner of a child, then to a parent’s partner, then sibling, friend and then the partners of stranger. There may be greater distress for vaginal intercourse, if there is a risk of a STD or if the infidelity was made public. Interestingly, coupled females and single males were most distressed by thoughts of infidelity (Fisher 2009).


These results were thought to go against an evolutionary theory of jealousy and gender-specific reaction to jealousy. It was hypothesised that parents would respond according to gender-specific patterns to infidelity in their children. A father would be more upset by the sexual infidelity of their children’s partner regardless of the child’s gender. Evolutionary theory would argue that a son’s partner being unfaithful would produce more concern in both parents about sexual infidelity.  Amongst a group of retired people with an average age of 67.1 who were given scenarios about their children’s partner’s infidelity, their distress about a daughter-in-law’s sexual infidelity was greater than their distress with a son-in-law’s sexual infidelity. Their distress about a daughter-in-law’s emotional infidelity was less than their distress with a son-in-law’s emotional infidelity. So, the sex of the child or their partners matters here, not the sex of the parents, which is consistent with evolutionary theories (Shackleford 2004).


A comparison of socialisation and evolutionary theories might help here. The former says the responses to infidelity relate to people being socially programmed and that is why we see the gender responses. If evolutionary theories are correct, then a sister-in-law who strays would put her husband and his brother at risk of raising another man’s child. If a brother-in-law strays than his wife and her sister are at risk of losing resources. So, it is hypothesised that people will be more upset by (regardless of the gender of the participant), and by virtue of shared genes by a sister-in-law’s sexual infidelity and a brother-in-law’s emotional infidelity. People from North America were recruited and given a set of hypothetical situations regarding their siblings in laws. Older participants (regardless of gender) were more distressed by sister-in-law sexual infidelity and a brother in laws emotional infidelity, which was taken to be in support of evolutionary theories (Michalski 2007).


Jealousy-provoked behaviours may also differ between the genders in those diagnosed with delusional jealousy; male sufferers are more likely to be violent, to try and kill them and to have killed them (Easton 2009).  When looking at motivations for violence we see issues of power / control, self-defence being used. It can be provoked by anger, communication difficulties, as a means of retaliation and often there are more one reason for violence (Langhinrichsen-Rohlin 2012). Up to 20% of teens have been physically abused, up to 15% sexually abused with emotional abuse being the commonest form. One meta-analyses looked at familial factors behind intimate partner violence. Females who saw parental violence or abused are more likely to suffer re-victimisation psychologically. Males victimised as children are more often violent in their relationships. Those with poor attachment patterns to their parents are more often involved in relational violence (Munusamy 2022)


From several studies it has been determined that reproductively fit males tended to marry young with several mates and had other couplings with other women when the risk was low and these males tended to be resource rich, be of high status and so historically there probably is a low chance of these males being single. This contrasts with modernity with many unattached males. People of similar mate value tend to get together (Buss 2008). There may be 2 types of males: the CAD, who is dominant, risk taker, aggressive, rebellious and the DAD who is compassionate, kind, hardworking and willing to invest in the long term, which may be associated with short and long term mating’s (Kruger 2008b).


Female nonverbal cues of attraction include eye contact, looking away, special ways of holding themselves, walking and quality of movements, with males approaching them more often if they display these behaviours. Measures of attractiveness vary according to whether study conditions used stills or movements. Women also have abilities to judge how formidable a man is (Hugill 2010).


Women who are considered attractive are often the victims of rumours from other females, aimed at lowering their self-esteem and access to males. Victimised females tend to have sex earlier with more short-term partners but fewer long term sexual partners, with the consequent increase in reproductive potential of those perpetrating the Intrasexual aggression. Victimised males tend to have fewer sexual contacts and they drop down the social hierarchy with a consequent loss of access to resources. Females and males with higher self-esteem tend to resistant to the effect of this (White 2010).


Both sexes vary their mating practices according to sex ratios, societal ideals, age, phase of menstrual cycle. Females may be attracted to cues that indicates good genes (masculinity, intelligence, symmetry, etc), resources (income, social status, etc), parenting indicators (wanting children, emotional stability, etc), and good partner indicators (loving, emotional stability, etc) When people rated social status of individuals in photos, under time restriction and no time restriction conditions, photos of men were more highly rated under the time limit compared to control condition. The opposite pattern was found for photos of high-status women. When rerun with photos showing average or highly attractive people - in the time limited condition, people to attended to higher status males but equal attention was paid to physically attractive male and females (Buss 2008, Dewall 2008).


People may alter their criteria for mates depending on their own inherent potential. Amongst people who were married less than one year, physically attractive women favoured masculine, attractive, sexy men who were physically fit. Female physical attractiveness correlated with investment e.g., potential income, earning capacity, and being younger than a mate. It was also correlated with desire / fondness / liking children, wanting to raise them and with a partner being loving. This was interpreted as showing that females, but not males, set higher standards if they were attractive with the study conclusions being strengthened by virtue of its observer rating status (Buss 2008).


Gender specific patterns to mating may relate to differing evolutionary reproductive pressures. Males may give gifts for sexual access and females engage in sex to gain resources. Trade has been used to obtain sex in undergraduate psychologists, with men aiming for sex and women aiming for resources. There was a similar pattern in couplings initiated by others. Males tended to promise more than hint at resource allocation and were more likely to have sex when others-initiated sex for trade (Kruger 2008, Schmitt 2008). This pattern may result in more children for males. but the risk for women is damage to their reputation and leave them with a child to raise (Buss 2007, Koehler 2007).


There have been several meta-analyses of studies looking at the gender difference in romantic jealousy, which provides inconsistent evidence and often show different results depending on the method used. Some are these meta-analyses are summarised below.


The review by Harris 2003, looked at forced choice measures. She divided the odds of picking sexual infidelity by male and females, and then taking the log, with the log odds ratio of 1 indicating no sex difference. Looking at 32 studies found an overall ratio of 1.00 (95% CI 0.81 1.19). But the log odds ratio was higher in heterosexual people and the young. They also concluded that self-report data was inconsistent and may not even measure aspects of jealousy that it was designed for. She also concluded that the results of psychophysical studies are too inconsistent to show gender related differences. With response often not correlated with self-report measures. The purported higher rates of jealousy related murders in men may be simply since males commit more violent crimes, as opposed to be precipitated by jealousy (Harris 2003).


Carpenter review found that for forced choice measures men were more likely to be distressed by emotional infidelity. But for continuous measures men were more distressed by sexual infidelity. For females on forced choice / continuous measures, sexual infidelity was more distressing. Apart from the USA males were more distressed by emotional infidelity (Carpenter 2012).


The third meta-analysis (Sagarin 2012) tried to account for methodological issues that come with ordinal scales. These scales have some categorical order e.g., mild, moderate, severe with the differences between intervals often not being defined. Also, when looking at the upper level, it includes information that cover many situations, e.g., above severe we have very severe, extremely severe, etc. But all this extra information is lost and there is reduced variance to data at the upper level. Similar arguments apply to the lower levels (ceiling and floor affect). Also, when looking at gender infidelity these ceiling and floor affects make ordinal scales hard to interpret. Because of the bunching up of data at upper and lower levels, finding central tendencies is hard and some have suggested we use non-parametric statistics to look at ordinal scales.


Sagarin looked at 15 trials where they had patient level data and coded participants as -1 if they were more concerned with emotional infidelity, 1 is more concerned about sexual infidelity and 0 is they were equally concerned about both. They found a significant result in favour of expected gender related differences. As this was in keeping with the results from continuous measures, they proceeded with the meta-analysis using parametric methods. Using a variety of experimental measures, most of the effect sizes were in the expected direction and this was found in 45 independent samples. Now a lot of studies investigated other emotions and found they tended to reduce the magnitude of the effects size, with the expected gender related differences mostly likely to be found with distress, upset and jealousy. They did find larger effect sizes with non-random samples (??), with young students and the effect size changed with whether forced choice or continuous measures were used first. A meta-regression found the effect size reduced with age, with the more points on the response scale and with older papers. Looking at studies where participants had experience infidelity, 3 out of the 7 studies found an effect in the expected direction (Sagarin 2012).

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