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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Note that the N for all physiological measures is 18; 22 males who participated did not complete these measures.
Barash, D. P. (1975). Male response to apparent female adultery in the mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides): An evolutionary interpretation. The American Naturalist, 110, 1097–1101.
Buss, D. M., Larsen, R. J., Westen, D., & Semmelroth, J. (1992). Sex differences in jealousy: Evolution, physiology, and psychology. Psychological Science, 3, 251–255.
DeSteno, D., Bartlett, M. Y., Braverman, J., & Salovey, P. (2002). Sex differences in jealousy: Evolutionary mechanism or artifact of measurement? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1103–1116.
DeSteno, D., & Salovey, P. (1996a). Evolutionary origins of sex differences in jealousy? Questioning the ‘fitness’ of the model. Psychological Science, 7(6), 367–372.
DeSteno, D., & Salovey, P. (1996b). Genes, jealousy, and the replication of misspecified models. Psychological Science, 7(6), 376–377.
DeWeerth, C., & Kalma, A. P. (1993). Female aggression as a response to sexual jealousy: A sex role reversal? Aggressive Behavior, 19, 265–279.
Ellis, B. J., & Symons, D. (1990). Sex differences in sexual fantasy: An evolutionary psychology approach. Journal of Sex Research, 27, 527–555.
Fisher, H. (2004). Why we love: The nature and chemistry of romantic love. New York: Holt.
Harris, C. R. (2000). Psychophysiological responses to imagined infidelity: The specific innate modular view of jealousy reconsidered. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 1082–1091.
Harris, C. R., & Christenfield, N. (1996). Gender, jealousy, and reason. Psychological Science, 7(6), 364–366.
Nannini, D. K., & Meyers, L. S. (2000). Jealousy in sexual and emotional infidelity: An alternative to the evolutionary explanation. Journal of Sex Research, 37(2), 117–122.
Schmitt, D. P., & Shackelford, T. K. (2003). Nifty ways to leave your lover: The tactics people use to entice and disguise the process of human mate poaching. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 1018–1035.
Shackelford, T. K., & Buss, D. M. (1997). Cues to infidelity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 1034–1045.
Strout, S. L., Laird, J. D., Shafer, A., & Thompson, N. S. (2005). The effect of vividness of experience on sex differences in jealousy. Evolutionary Psychology, 3, 263–274.
Strzyzewski-Aune, K. (1997). Effect of relationship length on the experience, expression, and perceived appropriateness of jealousy. Journal of Social Psychology, 137, 23–31.
Symons, D. (1979). The evolution of human sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.
Symons, D. (1995). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: The evolutionary psychology of human female attractiveness. In P. R. Abramson & S. D. Pinkerton (Eds.), Sexual nature/sexual culture (pp. 80–118). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Voracek, M. (2001). Marital status as a candidate moderator variable of male–female differences in sexual jealousy: The need for representative population samples. Psychological Reports, 88, 553–566.
About this article
Cite this article
Landolfi, J.F., Geher, G. & Andrews, A. The Role of Stimulus Specificity on Infidelity Reactions: Seeing is Disturbing. Curr Psychol 26, 46–59 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-007-9001-y
- Stimulus specificity
- Infidelity reactions
- Sexual infidelity
- Emotional infidelity