Jealousy – Evolutionary advantages, the dangerous passion and sexual differences.

     Most of us have experienced jealousy in some form at some point in our lives. When is strikes us, we experience an eruption of emotions and don’t really know how to act; we just know that we experience distress. This blog will raise the questions, do we experience this emotion similarly, is there a difference between sexes and is there a purpose to jealousy. Moreover, this post will evaluate whether this emotion is related to culture or an innate emotion we all share.

     For a better understanding, a scientific definition of jealousy is appropriate to separate jealousy from envy. Buss & Haselton (2005) define jealousy as,

     “Jealousy is an emotion designed to alert an individual to threats to a valued relationship, (…) is activated by the presence of interested and more desirable intra-sexual rivals, and functions, in part, as a motivational mechanism with behavioral output designed to deter ‘the dual specters of infidelity and abandonment”. From this we can see that jealousy is connected with relationships, but different aspects of relationships are more important to men and women.

     Looking at jealousy from the evolutionary perspective, women would find emotional infidelity more upsetting and distressing more than sexual infidelity whilst men are expected to report the opposite (Buss, 2000). This is because a woman’s sexual infidelity jeopardized a man’s chances reproduction and he’d risk spending years raising another man’s children. Women however have the certainty that they are raising their own child. However, the problem women faced were the loss of a partner’s emotional commitment from which would secure her with resources and would provide security for her and her child, increasing their chances of survival.

     Because of internal fertilization the female is put at risk during pregnancy, so an emotional bond between spouses secures a man’s presence during pregnancy. This suggests that jealousy is an adaption that has been carried over generations to increase the emotional commitment between mates (Buss, 2005). Jealousy would therefore be innate and fundamentally different between the sexes and is predominately present for natural selection. Harris, (2003) argues that men and women have developed different sexual strategies and would experience jealousy differently.

     This supports the heritability of jealousy and that it’s innate in most humans and we would experience jealousy differently as infidelity brings different costs to each sex. This could also mean that there are different triggers to jealousy in each sex, which suggests that there are physiological differences in the brain programmed to pick up on different signals of infidelity.

     However, plenty of studies show that there is no specific sex-bound jealousy mechanism in the brain (DeSteno & Salovey, 1996). Moreover, Sheppard et al. (1995) found that both sexes rate different kinds of infidelity similar (sex without emotional betrayal and emotion without sex). On an average, it has been found that men and women both report emotional infidelity as much worse than sexual infidelity (Sheets& Wolfe, 2001). Furthermore, when asked how they feel over a mate’s sexual relationship with another, men did not display higher ratings of jealousy than women (Harris,2003; Buunk & Hupka, 1987). These findings thereby disprove the evolutionary argument of an innate sex-bound jealousy mechanism.

     In later research, Harris (2002) argues that both sexes are more distressed by sexual infidelity and found in her study (Harris, 2002b) that both men and women reported that their upset would be greater over a mate’s one-night affair than upset over a comparable emotional betrayal. According to Buss and evolution theorists, this situation would be much more distressing for men than for women, however that was not the results of the study. Showing that there is not one single jealousy module active in each sex. The same scenario as in Harris’ study (2002b) have been replicated a number of times by different researcher (Wiederman & Allgeier, 1993; DeSteno et al. 2002; Shackelford, LeBlanc, and Drass, 2000). The results from their studies support that both sexes believe that sexual infidelity is worse than emotion, however women report greater anger and hurt than men did, also when rating emotional infidelity (Harris, 2003).
     Evolutionary- and Physiological psychologists appear to be on different sides of this argument; they agree that there is a difference and different triggers, however little difference between sexual- or emotional infidelity. It seems, as we are not so difference in our reactions to infidelity after all. Newer research contradicts older studies and has led to a paradigm change in how we look at jealousy. This could mean that jealousy was an evolutionary trait that have now changed due to societies development that we no longer live in smaller packs, but in big cities and there’s a greater chance of finding a new partner. However, further reading into cultural differences is required to establish this hypothesis and may be a topic for next blog.




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