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Jealousy and Other Emotions


Emotions may have evolved to help us deal with situations that are recurrent over evolutionary history. They may, with attentional focusing, encourage storage of relevant information and motivate current and future behaviours. If this is true then there may be gender-specific triggers for emotions, e.g., women get angry with men who want too much sex and men get angry with women who deny them sexual access (Buss 2001). Jealousy is associated with other emotions, e.g., anger, disgust, hurt (see above Sagarin 2012) Students when presented with jealousy-inducing situations, the most intense emotion was hurt, jealousy, anger and then disgust. There was more anger with sexual infidelity, greater hurt on emotional infidelity (especially women) and more disgust to sexual infidelity (slightly more in women). The differences in sexual and emotional scores regressed onto the emotions did not predict gender, but it did when other variables were added. Discriminant analysis showed emotional infidelity was the best predictor. The authors took this study as support for the gender differences in reaction to infidelity and not for the response being due to other emotions (Becker 2004).


Cognitive Aspects to Jealousy


There is evidence of evolved cognitive biases that serve to prevent infidelity, even if it involves false positives. Some of these biases include males overestimating female’s interest in them, or female underestimation of male commitment to reduce the chances of being sexually deceived (Buss 2001).


We have seen from Schützwohl (2004) that males and females react / decide faster for sexual / emotional infidelity tasks. Men recall cues of sexual infidelity, while women preferentially recall cues of emotional infidelity. When asked when they got jealous, there was no difference in the number of cues between the genders, but when the threshold was reached men needed fewer sexual cues and females fewer emotional cues to reach further jealousy thresholds (Thomson 2007).


We have discussed how gender-specific reactions to jealousy may prevent wasted energy expenditure (Wiederman 1999). This may mean that males / females preferentially process cues signalling sexual / emotional infidelity respectively. So, decisions about primary infidelity maybe processed faster than those about the secondary infidelity type. When investigated there was no difference between the genders in the numbers of cues required to cause pangs of jealousy. But as jealousy got worse, males required fewer cues to feel intolerable sexual jealousy and females’ fewer cues to feel intolerable emotional infidelity, with males reacting faster to cues of sexual infidelity than emotional infidelity and vice versa. The cues that lead to pangs of jealousy might serve as a marker of a possible future problem, activating gender-specific cognitive processing (Schützwohl 2005). Harris argues, however, that there is a general mechanism of jealousy which focuses on sexual jealousy, with socio-cultural influences leading to the female pattern of responding to emotional infidelity (Harris 2008).


In another study, students’ faces were recorded and morphed, resulting in situations where they were presented with similar and non-similar faces, with the view that the people in the photos were in their social network. They were then informed of their partner’s infidelity. They were asked to rank two situations that induced jealousy (sexual or emotional) while being presented with similar and non-similar faces. Again, males and females were more concerned about sexual / emotional infidelity respectively. Males were more distressed by sexual infidelity, especially if the faces presented resembled their own, while females were more distressed with emotional infidelity if the faces were similar to theirs. So, when told of infidelity, men and women were more upset about sexual / emotional infidelity when the faces of the people who told them resembled their own (Platek 2007).


Sixty-nine undergraduates were given the implicit association test to time reactions to jealousy-related stimuli. Words were chosen that could relate to both types of infidelity. First, people were asked to judge words as (un)pleasant and then categorise them according to the type of infidelity. Then they were shown random words, which they had to classify according to the four criteria. There were no gender reaction time differences but men made more errors in classifying sexual infidelity in the (un)pleasant condition. Sixty-eight students were given either control / emotional / sexual infidelity primers and then shown further words while performing the stroop test (a measure of executive function). Men took longer to react when primed for sexual infidelity and so when suspected it may capture attentional processes, whereas in women the detection of emotional infidelity takes time and so may not capture cognition in the same way (Thomson 2007). This was taken to mean that we are primed for certain jealousy-related stimuli, and hence when available they hijack cognitive resources, producing the slower reaction times.


We must be aware of a couple’s communication with each other; unintentional cues may be given off and it can also help to stabilise a dysfunctional relationship. The jealous person may but not always be a dependent individual, etc, and the partners may be flirty, etc. These behaviours obviously set up a series of interactions which are interpreted in certain ways by one person, then re-communicated and interpreted by the other in their own way. This interpretation would depend on cognitive biases that we have to overestimate jealousy, to defend our mating potential by refuting claims, etc (Crowe 1995).


With jealousy come other cognitive mechanisms, e.g., we become aware of potential threats, misinterpret information, with the emotional distress serving as a source of confirmation of the belief and as a source of behavioural motivation. Jealousy may activate negative self-schema, e.g., feeling unattractive and further distress. People may engage in increased vigilance to prevent the feared outcome, but this often leads to a sense of being out of control. Any uncertainty is a further source of distress, which may result in searching behaviours and people try to take control engaging in mate guarding (Leahy 2008).


German heterosexuals were subjected to a reaction time task, personality assessments and forced / continuous jealousy dilemmas and underwent tasks under a cognitive task. In the forced choice cognitive task women found emotional infidelity more distressing. Those who performed tasks under a cognitive load and responded in under 10 seconds (i.e., faster automatic cognitive processes), there was a greater sex difference. Women were faster to react to cues of emotional infidelity. Males tended to react non-significantly faster to cues of sexual infidelity and women were more likely to be negative in response to sexual and emotional infidelity. In the forced choice condition women found emotional infidelity more distressing and were faster to react with such cues. But for those who took 20 or more to respond, the sex difference was very small. The authors concluded that the gender results might be due to the faster automatic responses, while slower cognitive processing led to different responses. They also considered that most of the gender responses were due to the females’ faster reaction to emotional infidelity, while the males did not show a significant reaction to sexual infidelity (Penke 2008).


Jealousy can be evoked in a partner and often has many purposes, and women may be more likely to do this. About 75% may make their partner jealousy to get more attention, about 25% to get more commitment and about 20% to keep the mate. It can be used to boost self-esteem, to alter the power balance in relationships. Behaviours used to induce jealousy include talking about past and current relationships, flirting, dating, lying about a supposed rival, being unfaithful and close to a rival or having any non-sexual contact with someone, talking about how others are attractive, working with potential mates, etc. If the partner engages then they might engage in mate retention behaviours. A study administered a questionnaire and then asked them to rate the effect on their relationship. There were four jealousy-evoking situations with participants acting as if they were attracted to someone else, or suggesting that someone else was interested in them, mentioning a prior relationship, or behaving ambiguously. It was found that there was no gender difference in the effect that jealousy has on the relationship. Also, people reported that they would most likely be unaffected by jealousy-evoking scenario’s and of those who were affected they were more likely to fight with their partner (Sheets 1997). A principal component analysis of the goals of jealousy induction found the first component was related to rewards (e.g., better self-esteem) and revenge (e.g., violence). When it can to jealousy inducing tactics, the first component was made up of distancing (e.g., keeping others away), fake flirting (e.g., sending oneself flowers) and relational alternatives (e.g., talking about the relationship). When it came to the reaction of the person inducing jealousy, these included engaging in antisocial, withdrawal and compensatory behaviours (Fleischmann 2005). It has been speculated that jealousy could led to a break-up if jealousy is frequent or a strengthened relationship if jealousy is intermittent. When participants were asked to imagine that they had make their partner jealous and to describe their own response to such jealousy, about half would reassure the partner, about 20% would make very little of their partner’s jealousy, 12% would try to make it worse and 10% would try to explain why they made their partners jealous in the first place.


People may alter their criteria for mates depending on their own inherent potential. 214 people who were married for less than one year were assessed at three times and it was found that physically attractive women favour masculine, attractive and physically fit males. Female attractiveness was correlated with investment e.g., potential income, earning capacity, graduation and being younger than a mate. As well being correlated with a desire / fondness / liking child and wanting to raise them. This was interpreted as showing that females, set higher standards if they were attractive with the study conclusions being strengthened by virtue of its observer rating status, but importantly intelligence was not rated highly (Buss 2008).


Amongst a group of 45 students, the forced choice measure saw the expected gender-specific distress. On the continuous scales men reported more anger, rage and betrayal with sexual infidelity, while women more anger, anxiety and fear with sexual infidelity. These males tended to show greater physiological activity to sexual infidelity in terms of heart rate, peak electrodermal activity, electromyographic activity and temperature in comparison to emotional infidelity and neutral imagery (except for temperature). Women showed the same activity for emotional infidelity and higher heart rates and electromyographic activity as compared to neutral images (Pietrzak 2002).


Skin electrical conductance and pulse rate (to measure autonomic activity) and electromyographic activity in the corrugator supercilii (involved in facial displays of unpleasant emotions) can be used to measure distress. There were greater increases in skin conductance in males for sexual jealousy and in females for emotional jealousy condition. Pulse rate rose in both genders for both infidelity types, especially males for sexual infidelity. There was a non-significant rise in activity in the supercilii rose in the genders for both infidelities (Buss 1992). However other studies have found increased pulse, skin conductance, temperature and electromyographic activity in men when they imagine sexual infidelity, and in women on imagining emotional infidelity (Souza 2006). Some authors have suggested that as the results in Buss 1992 did not show a gender difference and that women showed poor responses to image of emotional infidelity on measures of electromyographic and electrodermal activity, then the evidence for gender differences in response to infidelity may be an artifact.


When people rated social status of individuals in photos, in time / no time limit condition, they had to estimate those who were high status, socially dominant and respected by others. Photos of men were more likely to be highly rated under the time limit (when presumably automatic attentional processes looking for social cues of high status were activated), compared to control condition. The opposite pattern was found for photos of high-status women. When rerun with photos showing people who were average or highly attractive and tracking eye movements; in the time limited condition, people preferred to attend to higher status males, but equal attention was paid to physically attractive male and female photos (Dewall 2008).


In males we have evidence that being tall, upper body muscle, breads, brow ridges and facial attractiveness is rated by women. In females faces, breast size, bum, waist and skin condition is associated with fitness indicators.

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