In a new study, researchers at Cardiff Metropolitan University in the U.K. investigated how jealousy manifests between the sexes when people discover compromising messages on their partner’s social media accounts.
They found that men and women tend to get distressed over different factors: Men become more upset over a suspected sexual affair and women become more distressed over the emotional aspect.
Women also get more upset when the incriminating message comes from the “other” woman, while men get more upset if their own partner composed the message.
The findings confirm previous research showing that men and women tend to have different jealousy triggers when discovering real-life (not online) evidence of cheating.
For the study, 21 male and 23 female undergraduate students were shown fake Facebook messages, showing that their partners had been either emotionally or sexually unfaithful.
Eight short messages along the lines of “You must be my soulmate! Feel so bloody connected to you, even though we haven’t slept together,” (emotional infidelity) and “You must be the best one-night stand I’ve ever had. Last night was out of this world sexy bum!” (sexual infidelity) were shown to participants.
Some of the “discovered” messages looked as if they’d been written by the participant’s partner and others by the “other” woman or man. Participants then had to rate how distressed they would have felt if they’d come across such messages while looking through their partner’s Facebook messages without permission.
The researchers found that men became more distressed when they read messages indicating a partner’s sexual rather than emotional infidelity, while women were more distressed over the emotional messages.
In addition, women became far more distressed when a potential rival had written the incriminating message, compared to when it was composed by their own partners. For men, the opposite seemed to be true — they seemed more upset by imagining their partner sending rather than receiving an infidelity-revealing message.
Regardless of the contents, however, women overall were more upset than men when they had to imagine discovering an infidelity-related message.
The findings support evolutionary theories that men and women have different jealousy triggers and that they subsequently direct hurt feelings towards the cheating partner or the potential rival.
The study helps shed light on the mechanisms underlying jealousy and how it plays out in the digital age. This is important, say the researchers, because real or suspected partner infidelity that causes sexual or emotional jealousy is often given as the reason for domestic abuse and violence.
“Applying an evolutionary perspective to understanding the manifestation of jealous behavior and how infidelity-related anger can trigger partner dissolution and domestic abuse may help counteract inevitable rises in such behaviors in an age where clandestine extramarital relationships are facilitated by modern forms of media technology,” said researcher Michael Dunn.
The findings are published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.