Spite – Individual justice and evolutionary costs of infidelity.

Continuing on my previous blog about the heritability of jealousy and its advantages, this blog will look at spite, the deliberate desire to hurt or offend another. I will look on how it evolved, how it affects relationships and why disliking your Ex is completely natural from an evolutionary aspect. From previous reading we know that jealousy helped us to detect infidelity, eliciting efforts to save the relationship (Buss, 2000; Nordström, 2013). What is interesting to know is what happened to those who failed to repair their relationship and what costs came with being found out. There is a close link between jealousy, envy and spite and if jealousy is triggered to repair spite could be the counterpart to this repairing behavior, the yin to jealousy’s yang.

Jealousy is accompanied by feelings of unfairness, anger and despair, each of these separate emotions would each elicit different behavior. Miller (2001) argues that humans evolved to detect, avoid and punish sexual infidelity, as supported by Buss (2000). Furthermore he argues that fidelity could be viewed as a type of reciprocity which requires trust and when this trust is broken, the cheated individual will experience emotional arousal. This arousal with elicit a motivation to punish the other in order to reach equity and fairness (Bayliss & Tipper, 2006; Fehr & Gächter, 2002; Fehr & Gintis, 2007). The punishment of infidelity is usually the ending of the relationship as this would inhibit the others reproductive success. In addition, if the infidelity was detected in the group, no other individual would want to mate with the cheater, resulting in further punishment (Dawkins, 2006; Dawes et al., 2007; Miller, 2011).

Unfairness is experienced in situations where another person is gaining all the benefits and you are suffering all the costs. If your partner is adulterous and you faithful and investing in the relationship, it is expected to result in willingness to engage spiteful behavior. The purpose of this behavior is to correct the wrong and reach for emotional equilibrium and fairness (Dawes et al. 2007). Furthermore they found that the difference between expectation and reality was correlated with the amount of distress experienced; suggesting that the more betrayed you feel the more will you spite the other person. The feelings of unfairness could also be awoken if your partner is dumping you as the relationship did not turn out as expected. In aspects of modern human society, the stronger feelings you have for your partner when you find out about their adultery, the more spite and anger is felt towards them.

These arguments support that if an adulterous individual were to be found out, he or she would be punished and suffer the costs of being unable to reproduce in the future. It could therefore be argued that spite is evolutions way of securing the spread of genes and decreasing the cheaters chances. If this statement was to be true, adulterous behavior would not occur, yet it does. The implications of interpreting emotions from an evolutionary perspective throughout are that it doesn’t explain why punishable behaviour like infidelity and cheating still occurs. Furthermore in modern day society the behavior cannot be punished in the same way as we live in a lot bigger groups and all we need to do is go to the other end of town. Arguably the feelings spite towards an individual who betrayed us is still there and the origins of these feelings say it’s perfectly natural for you to have distaste for your previous partner due to feelings of unfairness and spite (assuming you ended on bad terms).

Word Count: 596


Bayliss, A. P., & Tipper, S. P., (2006). Predictive Gaze Cues and Personality Judgments Should Eye Trust You? Psychological Science, 17(6), 514-520.  Retrieved from, http://pss.sagepub.com/content/17/6/514. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01737.x

Buss, D., M. (2000). The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex. 1-18. ISBN 0-684-85081-8.

Dawkins, R. (2006). The selfish gene. Oxford university press.

Dawes, C. T., Fowler, J. H., Johnson, T., McElreath, R., & Smirnov, O., (2007). Egalitarian motives in humans. Nature, 446(7137), 794-796. doi:10.1038/nature05651

Fehr, E., & Gintis, H. (2007). Human motivation and social cooperation: Experimental and analytical foundations. Annu. Rev. Sociol., 33, 43-64.

Fehr, E., & Gächter, S. (2002). Altruistic punishment in humans. Nature, 415(6868), 137-140.

Miller, G. (2011). The mating mind: How sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature. Random House Digital, Inc..


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