The Adaptive Functions of Jealousy

  • Jose C. YongEmail author
  • Norman P. Li


Jealousy is a troublesome emotional experience for those afflicted by its onset. The grip of the “green-eyed monster” has been known to cause misery and produce some drastic coping behaviors ranging from paranoid stalking to violent aggression. But rather than a product of civilized culture gone wrong or a mental disorder as some thinkers have claimed jealousy to be, the current chapter proposes from an evolutionary perspective that jealousy plays an important role in our lives by serving a critical adaptive function for humans—the vigilance over and protection of relationships that are valuable to us.


Jealousy Evolutionary psychology Adaptations Function Sex differences Mating 


  1. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Betzig, L. L. (1989). Causes of conjugal dissolution. Current Anthropology, 30, 654–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bhugra, D. (1993). Cross-cultural aspects of jealousy. International Review of Psychiatry, 5, 271–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Borgerhoff Mulder, M. (1988). Kipsigis bridewealth payments. In L. L. Betzig, M. Borgerhoff Mulder, & P. Turke (Eds.), Human reproductive behavior (pp. 65–82). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brase, G. L., Caprar, D. V., & Voracek, M. (2004). Sex differences in responses to relationship threats in England and Romania. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 763–778.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brooke, J. (1991). ‘Honor’ killing of wives is outlawed in Brazil. The New York Times. Retrieved 17 Sept 2017 from:
  7. Burlingham, D. (1973). The preoedipal infant-father relationship. Psychoanalytic Study of Child, 28, 23–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buss, D. M. (2000). The dangerous passion: Why jealousy is as necessary as love and sex. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  10. Buss, D. M. (2013). Sexual jealousy. Psychological Topics, 22, 155–182.Google Scholar
  11. Buss, D. M., & Barnes, M. F. (1986). Preferences in human mate selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 559–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Buss, D. M., & Duntley, J. D. (2011). The evolution of intimate partner violence. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 16, 411–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Buss, D. M., Haselton, M. G., Shackelford, T. K., Bleske, A. L., & Wakefield, J. C. (1998). Adaptations, exaptations, and spandrels. American Psychologist, 53, 533–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Buss, D. M., Larsen, R., Westen, D., & Semmelroth, J. (1992). Sex differences in jealousy: Evolution, physiology, and psychology. Psychological Science, 3, 251–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). From vigilance to violence: Mate retention tactics in married couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 346–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Buss, D. M., Shackelford, T. K., Choe, J., Buunk, B. P., & Dijkstra, P. (2000). Distress about mating rivals. Personal Relationships, 7, 235–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Buunk, A. P., Angleitner, A., Oubaid, V., & Buss, D. M. (1996). Sex differences in jealousy in evolutionary and cultural perspective: Tests from the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States. Psychological Science, 7, 359–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cavanagh, K., Dobash, R. E., & Dobash, R. P. (2007). The murder of children by fathers in the context of child abuse. Child Abuse and Neglect, 31, 731–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Christakis, N. A., & Fowler, J. H. (2009). Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. New York, NY: Little Brown.Google Scholar
  21. Confer, J. C., & Cloud, M. D. (2011). Sex differences in response to imagining a partner's heterosexual or homosexual affair. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 129–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1983). Sex, evolution, and behavior. Boston, MA: Willard Grant Press.Google Scholar
  23. Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1988). Homicide. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine.Google Scholar
  24. Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1990). Is parent-offspring conflict sex-linked? Freudian and Darwinian models. Journal of Personality, 58, 163–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Daly, M., Wilson, M., & Weghorst, S. J. (1982). Male sexual jealousy. Ethology and Sociobiology, 3, 11–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dawkins, R. (1982). The extended phenotype. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. de Miguel, A., & Buss, D. M. (2011). Mate retention tactics in Spain: Personality, sex differences, and relationship status. Journal of Personality, 79, 563–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. de Souza, A. A., Verderane, M. P., Taira, J. T., & Otta, E. (2006). Emotional and sexual jealousy as a function of sex and sexual orientation in a Brazilian sample. Psychological Reports, 98, 529–535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Dobzhansky, T. (1973). Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. American Biology Teacher, 35, 125–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Dunbar, R. I. M. (1992). Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates. Journal of Human Evolution, 22, 469–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Dunn, J. (1988). Sibling influences on childhood development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 29, 119–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Duntley, J. D. (2005). Adaptations to dangers from humans. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), The handbook of evolutionary psychology (pp. 224–249). New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  33. Ekman, P. (1994). All emotions are basic. In P. Ekman & R. J. Davidson (Eds.), The nature of emotion: Fundamental questions (pp. 56–58). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Elphinston, R. A., Feeney, J. A., & Noller, P. (2011). Measuring romantic jealousy: Validation of the multidimensional jealousy scale in Australian samples. Australian Journal of Psychology, 63, 243–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Freeman, D. (1983). Margaret mead and Samoa: The making and unmaking of an anthropological myth. New York, NY: Viking Penguin.Google Scholar
  36. Freud, S. (1910). Contributions to the psychology of love. Papers XI, XII, XIII in Collected Papers, 4, 192–235.Google Scholar
  37. Gutierres, S. E., Kenrick, D. T., & Partch, J. (1999). Beauty, dominance, and the mating game: Contrast effects in self-assessment reflect gender differences in mate selection criteria. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1126–1134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 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.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hart, S. L. (2015). Jealousy in infants: Laboratory research on differential treatment. New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hart, S. L., Field, T., Del Valle, C., & Letourneau, M. (1998). Infants protest their mothers’ attending to an infant-size baby doll. Social Development, 7, 54–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hart, S. L., & Legerstee, M. (2010). Handbook of jealousy: Theories, principles and multidisciplinary approaches. West-Sussex, UK: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Haselton, M. G., & Gangestad, S. W. (2006). Conditional expression of women's desires and men's mate guarding across the ovulatory cycle. Hormones and Behavior, 49, 509–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hill, K., & Hurtado, A. M. (1996). Ache life history. New York, NY: Aldine De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  44. Hupka, R. B. (1991). The motive for arousal of romantic jealousy: Its cultural origin. In P. Salovey (Ed.), The psychology of jealousy and envy (pp. 252–270). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  45. Johnson, J. (1969). Organic psychosyndromes due to boxing. British Journal of Psychiatry, 115, 45–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Jonason, P. K., Li, N. P., & Buss, D. M. (2010). The costs and benefits of the dark triad: Implications for mate poaching and mate retention tactics. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 373–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Jung, C. G. (1913). The theory of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Review, 1913-15, 1–2.Google Scholar
  48. Kenrick, D. T., Neuberg, S. L., Zierk, K. L., & Krones, J. M. (1994). Evolution and social cognition: Contrast effects as a function of sex, dominance, and physical attractiveness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 210–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Li, N. P., van Vugt, M., & Colarelli, S. M. (2018). The evolutionary mismatch hypothesis: Implications for psychological science. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27, 38–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lyndon, A., Bonds-Raacke, J., & Cratty, A. D. (2011). College students’ Facebook stalking of ex-partners. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14, 711–716.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Marazziti, D., Di Nasso, E., Masala, I., Baroni, S., Abelli, M., Mengali, F., … Rucci, P. (2003). Normal and obsessional jealousy: A study of a population of young adults. European Psychiatry, 18, 106–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mathes, E. W., Adams, H. E., & Davies, R. M. (1985). Jealousy: Loss of relationship rewards, loss of self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and anger. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 1552–1561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Mead, M. (1928). Coming of age in Samoa: A psychological study of primitive youth for western civilisation. New York, NY: Morrow.Google Scholar
  54. Michael, A., Mirza, S., Mirza, K. A., Babu, V. S., & Vithayathil, E. (1995). Morbid jealousy in alcoholism. British Journal of Psychiatry, 167, 668–672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Miller, G. F. (2000). The mating mind: How sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature. New York, NY: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  56. Miller, S. L., & Maner, J. K. (2009). Sex differences in response to sexual versus emotional infidelity: The moderating role of individual differences. Personality and Individual Differences, 46, 287–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Mirsky, J. (1937). The Eskimo of Greenland. In M. Mead (Ed.), Cooperation and competition among primitive peoples (pp. 51–86). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Muise, A., Christofides, E., & Desmarais, S. (2009). More information than you ever wanted: Does facebook bring out the green-eyed monster of jealousy? CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 441–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Nesse, R. M. (1990). Evolutionary explanations of emotions. Human Nature, 1, 261–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Nesse, R. M., & Berridge, K. C. (1997). Psychoactive drug use in evolutionary perspective. Science, 278, 63–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Nettle, D. (2005). An evolutionary approach to the extraversion continuum. Evolution and Human Behavior, 26, 363–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Parrott, W. G. (1991). The emotional experiences of envy and jealousy. In P. Salovey (Ed.), The psychology of jealousy and envy (pp. 3–30). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  63. Pfeiffer, S. M., & Wong, P. T. P. (1989). Multidimensional jealousy. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 6, 181–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pietrzak, R. H., Laird, J. D., Stevens, D. A., & Thompson, N. S. (2002). Sex differences in human jealousy: A coordinated study of forced-choice, continuous rating-scale, and physiological responses on the same subjects. Evolution and Human Behavior, 23, 83–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Pines, A. M. (1992). Romantic jealousy: Five perspectives and an integrative approach. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 29, 675–683.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Pinker, S., & Bloom, P. (1990). Natural language and natural selection. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 13, 707–727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Plutchik, R. (1980). Emotion: A psychoevolutionary synthesis. New York, NY: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  68. Shackelford, T. K., Buss, D. M., & Bennett, K. (2002). Forgiveness or breakup: Sex differences in responses to a partner's infidelity. Cognition and Emotion, 16, 299–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Shackelford, T. K., Goetz, A. T., & Buss, D. M. (2005). Mate retention in marriage: Further evidence of the reliability of the mate retention inventory. Personality and Individual Differences, 39, 415–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Siibak, A. (2009). Constructing the self through the photo selection: Visual impression management on social networking websites. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 3(1). (Retrieved 27 Sept 2017).
  71. Symons, D. (1979). The evolution of human sexuality. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Takahashi, H., Matsuura, M., Yahata, N., Koeda, M., Suhara, T., & Okubo, Y. (2006). Men and women show distinct brain activations during imagery of sexual and emotional infidelity. NeuroImage, 32, 1299–1307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Tandoc, E. C., Jr., Ferrucci, P., & Duffy, M. (2015). Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: Is facebooking depressing? Computers in Human Behavior, 43, 139–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (1990). The past explains the present: Emotional adaptations and the structure of ancestral environments. Ethology and Sociobiology, 11, 375–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (1992). The psychological foundations of culture. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind (pp. 19–136). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  76. Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2005). Conceptual foundations of evolutionary psychology. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), The handbook of evolutionary psychology (pp. 5–67). New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  77. Trivers, R. L. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell (Ed.), Sexual selection and the descent of man, 1871–1971 (pp. 136–179). Chicago, IL: Aldine.Google Scholar
  78. Utz, S., & Beukeboom, C. J. (2011). The role of social network sites in romantic relationships: Effects on jealousy and relationship happiness. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 16, 511–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. White, G. L. (1980). Inducing jealousy: A power perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 6, 222–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Whitty, M. T., & Quigley, L. L. (2008). Emotional and sexual infidelity offline and in cyberspace. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 34, 461–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wiederman, M. W., & Kendall, E. (1999). Evolution, sex, and jealousy: Investigation with a sample from Sweden. Evolution and Human Behavior, 20, 121–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Williams, G. C. (1966). Adaptation and natural selection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  83. Wilson, M. I., & Daly, M. (1985). Competitiveness, risk taking, and violence: The young male syndrome. Ethology and Sociobiology, 6, 59–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Wilson, M. I., & Daly, M. (1996). Male sexual proprietariness and violence against wives. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 5, 2–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Yong, J. C., Li, N. P., Valentine, K. A., & Smith, A. R. (2017). Female virtual intrasexual competition and its consequences: An evolutionary mismatch perspective. In M. L. Fisher (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of women and competition (pp. 657–680). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management UniversitySingaporeSingapore

Personalised recommendations