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The Role of Stimulus Specificity on Infidelity Reactions: Seeing is Disturbing


Past research has found that males are more distressed by imagined scenarios of sexual infidelity compared with females, while females are more distressed by imagined scenarios of emotional infidelity. Expanding on the methodology originally employed by Buss et al. (Psychological Science, 3, 251–255, 1992), we examined sex differences in reactions to imagined infidelity by addressing the effects of visual images of potential interlopers. Additionally, this research measured affective responses in a continuous format by examining psychological discomfort. Participants in high-visual imagery and control conditions imagined infidelity (both emotional and sexual) and then reported levels of discomfort. Further, two indices of autonomic nervous system responding were assessed (skin conductance and pulse rate). Ninety-three (53 females, 40 males) college students participated. Visual stimuli produced greater psychological distress than thought-produced stimuli for all participants, especially males. Sex differences in reactions to infidelity consistent with past research were obtained for the categorical and continuous psychological indices. Implications for research in this area are discussed.

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  1. Note that the N for all physiological measures is 18; 22 males who participated did not complete these measures.


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Correspondence to Glenn Geher.

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Landolfi, J.F., Geher, G. & Andrews, A. The Role of Stimulus Specificity on Infidelity Reactions: Seeing is Disturbing. Curr Psychol 26, 46–59 (2007).

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  • Stimulus specificity
  • Infidelity reactions
  • Sexual infidelity
  • Emotional infidelity