Is infidelity contagious? University researchers assume so

We’re more likely to cheat when we think everyone else is in, says study

We are more likely to cheat on our partners if we believe other people are cheating too.

That’s the conclusion reached by a team of university researchers trying to find out if infidelity is “contagious.”

They conducted a series of three experiments with student volunteers, all in long-term heterosexual relationships, who were recruited through flyers, social media posts, and word of mouth.

They wanted to test the theory that the more we believe that infidelity is the norm, the more likely we are to go astray.

“Knowing that other people are having affairs can make people feel more comfortable about having affairs themselves,” Gurit Birnbaum, a professor of psychology at Reichman University, told NoCamels.

“Of course, environments where infidelity is prevalent don’t necessarily turn people into cheaters. However, when someone is already vulnerable to cheating or when opportunities for infidelity arise, these environments can provide the extra boost needed to resolve the conflict between following moral values ​​and succumbing to temptation in a way that encourages infidelity.

“Research has actually shown that social norms, which dictate what behaviors are accepted as normal, influence how people resolve a conflict between short-term temptations and long-term goals in other situations, such as B. Alcohol consumption, gambling and theft.

“We wanted to investigate whether this social contagion can be observed in intimate relationships.

“Specifically, we examined whether exposure to norms of infidelity would decrease attachment to the current partner while increasing desire for alternative partners.”

In the first of three experiments, 145 participants (88 women and 57 men) watched a video about whether humans had evolved to be monogamous.

Researchers at Reichman University believe infidelity can be “contagious.” deposit photos

Half watched a version that reported 86 percent of adults admit to cheating on their partner by having sex with someone else.

The other half watched the same video but with the number changed to 11 percent to see if their perception of cheating as normal would influence their judgment (Research actually estimates the number at 70 percent).

They were then asked to write a sexual fantasy involving someone other than their partner, in vivid detail – with assurances of anonymity.

The test was designed to determine whether the group that believed infidelity was common would express their desires more enthusiastically than the group that had just been told that it was not.

Men showed more interest in having sex with someone else than women did — which didn’t surprise the researchers — but the study didn’t show a significant difference between the “11 percent group” and the “86 percent group.”

However, the second experiment, conducted on different volunteers, showed clearer results. It should be examined whether a discussion of cheating in general raises thoughts of infidelity or whether it needs to be about sex specifically.

flirtFlirting via SMS. deposit photos

One group of volunteers read a true-life confession about a woman who shared a passionate kiss with her boss, and a second group read about a student who paid someone else to write his essay.

They were then shown 16 pictures of attractive and unattractive people of the opposite sex and asked to make an instant yes/no decision on whether to classify them as potential partners.

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Those exposed to admissions of infidelity were more likely to show interest in alternative partners. Or, as the researchers put it, the thought of infidelity “undermines the motivation to protect the relationship from the lure of alternative partners.”

The team wanted to go one step further and explore how these thoughts about infidelity could actually be put into action. Her third experiment offered the volunteers the opportunity to connect with an attractive stranger online.

sex chatProfessor Gurit Birnbaum. decency

One group was exposed to the aforementioned discussion of adultery and the other group to the discussion of cheating students. Would the adultery discussion prove more provocative?

Both groups were then introduced via the instant messenger service to a “moderately attractive” real person of the opposite sex who was blind to the research goals but had been advised to respond in a friendly manner and in a manner that conveyed outreach.

After a general text message discussion about hobbies and interests, they were instructed to say goodbye with a message: “You’ve definitely piqued my curiosity! I hope to see you again and this time face to face.”

The volunteers’ messages were rated from 1 to 5 points for flirtation by trained psychology students.

They were also asked how attractive they found their messaging partner and how committed they felt to their actual partner.

Some clearly earned a 5 for their messages, such as, “It was great meeting you! I would be happy to meet you! You sound like a girl I can get along with.”

And “I enjoyed chatting with you! i would like to see you soon Do you want that too? Please let me know when we can meet up.”

Those just exposed to the infidelity discussion were more likely to pursue a face-to-face meeting than the cheating student group.

The experiment showed that, according to researchers, “greater perceptions of adultery norms were associated not only with a greater desire for alternative partners, but also with increased efforts to interact with them in the future.”

Monogamy still dominates in Western culture, although alternative lifestyles like swinging, open relationships and polyamory are becoming increasingly accepted, they say.


But the high frequency of sexual fantasies involving alternative partners is evidence that desire for people other than the current partner persists.

“Such environments can make people more vulnerable to infidelity, if not ‘infect’,” says Prof. Gurit, who is also director of the Interpersonal Relationships program at Reichman University.

“People should be more aware of the power of situations and how they affect intimate decision-making.

“Couples in monogamous relationships who live in an environment where infidelity is acceptable and who are prone to engaging in affairs can be offered counseling that encourages a return of attention to the primary partner and the each other has shown to be useful in increasing sexual desire and emotional bonding between partners.”

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