Is infidelity contagious? Research exhibits how publicity to norms of adultery can hurt your relationship

What are the circumstances that make people more likely to cheat on their partner?

Alternative lifestyles such as swinging, open relationships and polyamory are increasingly accepted. And yet most people in western cultures seek or have a monogamous relationship. However, the hegemonic dominance of monogamy does not mean that desires for people other than the current mate cease to exist. The high frequency of sexual fantasies with alternative partners will confirm this.

People involved in a monogamous relationship often resolve the conflict between their desire for alternative partners and their desire to maintain the current relationship by using strategies that help them overcome temptation. For example, they may ignore attractive people or find them less desirable than they are.

In our most recent research, we have focused on the circumstances in which people are less likely to use such relationship-protective strategies. We suggest that a peer environment that creates the impression that infidelity is acceptable may be one such circumstance, since knowing that others are having affairs can make people feel more comfortable contemplating them prefer to have affairs themselves.

Indeed, research has shown that social norms, which dictate what behaviors are accepted as normal, affect how people resolve a conflict between short-term temptations and long-term goals in other situations, such as B. Alcohol consumption, gambling and theft. For example, exposure to cheating behavior by members of the group increased the likelihood that participants would cheat themselves.

In the present three studies, we wanted to examine whether this social contagion can be observed in intimate relationships. In particular, we examined whether exposure to norms of infidelity would decrease attachment to the current partner while increasing desire for alternative partners. In all studies, we exposed romantically involved participants to the cheating behavior of others. We then recorded their reactions while thinking about or interacting with attractive others.

In the first study, we exposed participants to research that indicated either a high or low prevalence of infidelity. Participants then wrote about the first sexual fantasy that came to mind. Independent judges read these fantasies and rated the level of desire experienced in them toward both the current and alternate partners.

In the second study, we examined whether the predicted effect of exposure to infidelity norms on desire for alternative partners would be observed with a different, more objective measure of desire for alternatives. Furthermore, we wanted to show that this effect is due to other people’s infidelity rather than other people’s unethical behavior in general (e.g., cheating in other areas). To do this, the participants read out confessions describing instances of cheating in their current partner or in academic work.

For example, participants in the infidelity condition read the following confession:

“I met a gorgeous man during an interview at his place of work. I got the job and started working with him. After a few weeks he invited me to dinner. I didn’t think twice and accepted his invitation. After dinner we kissed passionately. It was the best kiss ever! I don’t live with my boyfriend so he doesn’t know about it.”

For example, participants in the academic cheating condition read the following confession:

“I am a student who works 24/7 to fund my studies. So sometimes when I have to write an essay that I find challenging or time consuming, I copy it from other students. If things get difficult, I might even pay someone to write the essay for me. I just want to graduate and get this degree.”

Participants then rated pictures of attractive strangers of the opposite sex, indicating whether the person depicted could be a potential mate. The number of partners selected was used as an index of interest in alternative partners.

In the third study, we examined whether exposure to norms of infidelity would increase not only the desire for alternative partners but also the effort put into seeing them in the future. To do this, participants read the results of a survey that indicates a high prevalence of cheating in current partners or academic work. Then they were interviewed online by an attractive interviewer of the opposite sex.

We asked the participants to send a message to the interviewer at the end of the interview. Participants also rated the interviewer’s sexual desirability and commitment to their current relationship. Independent judges read the messages sent to the interviewers and rated the participants’ efforts to re-engage with them.

what did we find

After being exposed to the infidelities of others, participants experienced less commitment to their relationship and a greater desire for alternative partners. These results suggest that environments that promote greater prevalence of infidelity reduce motivation to protect attachment to the current partner, potentially setting the stage for unleashing desire for alternative partners. Such environments can make people more vulnerable to infidelity, if not “infect”.

Overall, our research shows that environments where infidelity is common can provide the justification for abandoning long-term relationship maintenance priorities and pursuing enticing alternatives. Of course, environments where infidelity is prevalent don’t necessarily make people cheat. However, when someone is already vulnerable to betrayal or opportunities for infidelity arise, these environments can provide the extra boost needed to resolve the conflict between following moral values ​​and succumbing to short-term temptations in a way that encourages infidelity.

The study “Is infidelity contagious? Online Exposure to Norms of Adultery and Its Effect on Expressions of Desire for Current and Alternative Partners,” was authored by Gurit E. Birnbaum, Kobi Zholtack, and Shahar Ayal and published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

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