Infidelity: Is Our Character Dishonest?

  • The results of a 2005 study show that with the Big Five model of personality traits, there is a significant difference between cheaters and non-cheaters.
  • Poor self-control, selfishness, anger, boredom, and attention-seeking are the most common reasons a person is unfaithful in their relationship.
  • However, a 2018 study suggests that even infidelity, which is inherently selfish behavior, is more than it seems. This requires an in-depth study of both the personality traits of each person in the relationship and the dynamics between them.

Personality Trait “The Big Five” – ​​a brief explanation

What personality traits make a person cheat more (or less) on a spouse?

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Defining the human psyche and explaining human behavior has been a goal of psychologists and researchers for decades.

The pioneering psychologist Gordon Allport (1897–1967) once compiled a list of 4,500 different personality traits that he believed to explain the human condition. Raymond Cattel (1905–1998), a British-American psychologist best known for his research on intrapersonal psychology, later explained a shorter personality model with 16 different types of personality traits.

In the 1970s, we were introduced to what we now know as the Big Five. The Big Five were created by two independent research teams who took different approaches to their studies of human behavior and came to exactly the same conclusion.

The first team was led by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae at the National Institutes of Health. The second was led by Warren Norman from the University of Michigan and Lewis Goldberg from the University of Oregon.

The Big Five (abbreviation OCEAN):

  • Openness to experience (willingness to try new activities)
  • Conscientiousness (an awareness of your actions and the consequences of behavior)
  • Extroversion (sociable, socially confident behavior)
  • Unity (cooperative, friendly and sympathetic behavior)
  • Neuroticism (anxious, rethinking, worrying behavior)

In 1998, Oliver John of Berkeley Personality Lab and Veronica Benet-Martinez of UC, Davis created the Big Five Inventory – a 44-point questionnaire that measures a person using the Big Five factors and then subdivides those factors Personality facets.

These factors are measured on a spectrum – a person can be highly extroverted, highly introverted, or anywhere in between. A copy of the Big Five inventory can be found here.

How does our personality affect our likelihood of cheating in a relationship?

In 2005, researchers Tricia Orzeck and Esther Lung conducted a study in which participants voluntarily answered a questionnaire on personality traits about themselves and their monogamous partners. A total of 45 men and 59 women rated themselves and their partners (a total of 208 people were involved in the study).

The results of this study have shown that there is a significant difference between cheaters and non-cheaters when it comes to the Big Five model of personality traits.

This was further explained by a study in 2018 in which data from two separate studies looked at personality traits and relationship dynamics of new married couples. Both studies lasted 3 years and examined the relationships between personality and infidelity.

The results of this study showed that these were the couples who were most likely to be unfaithful in their marriage:

  • Women with high (compared to low) extroversion characteristics were more likely to be unfaithful.
  • Wives who worked with a husband who had high (versus low) neuroticism and / or extroversion traits were more likely to be unfaithful.
  • Husbands who worked with a woman who had high (versus low) neuroticism and / or extroversion characteristics were more likely to be unfaithful.
  • Husbands who worked with a woman who exhibited high (versus low) narcissistic traits were more likely to be unfaithful.

The results of this study suggest that a person’s personality traits are insufficient to determine the likelihood of infidelity. Instead, infidelity requires a careful consideration of both the personality traits of each person in the relationship and the dynamics between them.

Why do we cheat?

According to a 2013 survey of 1,535 American adults, an affair is considered “more morally wrong” than gambling, human cloning, and medical animal testing. And yet – so many people still suffer heartbreak from being unfaithful in their relationships.

The New York Times psychotherapist and best-selling author Esther Perel wanted to understand why people cheat in relationships.

“Why do people do this? Why do people who one day have often been faithful for decades cross a line they never thought they would cross? What is it about? How do we understand this and how do we grow from it?”

In her book “The State of Things: Rethinking Infidelity”, Perel, who has worked with couples for 33 years, does not consider infidelity in an evidence-based scientific way, but from a sociological, anthropological perspective.

While it is very common to have fantasies about being with someone other than your partner, not everyone who does so takes the step over this line to cheat on their partner. According to a 2001 study, 98% of men and 80% of women have admitted to fantasizing about someone other than their partner, at least occasionally.

That is human nature to be curious – but what makes a person go from naturally curious to morally ambiguous and cross the line into infidelity? While personality traits and the dynamics of your relationship play a key role, there is much speculation as to why people cheat.

Is technology to blame for “making cheating easier”?

Many people speculate that the technological surge (dating apps and websites like Ashley Madison, which caters to married couples) could be one of the main reasons for infidelity.

According to a study by Dr. However, Justin Lehmiller in 2015, the prevalence of fraud is no higher today than it was 20 years ago before dating websites and apps were launched.

Instead, psychologists have narrowed down some of the most common reasons people cheat on their spouses, including:

  • Poor self-control or lack of commitment to the relationship: impulsive behavior, not thinking about the consequences of your actions, and lack of commitment to your current romantic partner.
  • Selfishness or anger: Put your needs above your partner’s needs, without worrying about whether your actions hurt those around you or want some form of “punishment” for your partner.
  • Seeking attention: feeling unfulfilled in a current relationship, not meeting emotional or physical needs.
  • Boredom and Insecurity: Feeling insecure, in need of confirmation, or wanting a “thrill” even if it’s due to self-defeating behaviors such as cheating.

These motives vary from your point of view to your relationship and the context of the particular situation. When it comes to flagging infidelity, there is rarely only one factor involved. It’s never just about a person’s personality traits or the dynamics in the relationship – it’s a combination of personality, events, and circumstances.

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