Predicting infidelity based mostly on exact persona traits

According to CJJ van Zyl, author of a study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (2021), infidelity is the most common cause of separation and divorce. Betrayal causes the greatest damage to trust, hits love at its roots, undoes years of relationship building, and casts a shadow over the future of mutual satisfaction. While many couples survive the injury, many succumb.

Previous research shows that some factors protect against infidelity1 while others make it more likely2. While infidelity for many couples is a relationship ending event, for other couples, hidden – and sometimes overtly secret infidelity – can help stabilize relationships.

The unfaithful personality

Given the critical importance of trust in a relationship and the need for exclusivity in monogamous relationships, which are most common as a function of “less restrictive” sociosexuality, despite the increase in mutually open relationships, researchers have been keen to understand which personality traits are likely to be Can increase or decrease infidelity.

Van Zyl notes that most of the research has focused on personality traits. In addition to the “dark triad” (narcissism, Machiavellian, psychopathy), the five-factor model (FFM) or the “Big 5” (OCEAN: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, tolerance and neuroticism) were used to investigate infidelity .

There are consistent associations between infidelity and each of the Big 5 traits. For example, people who cheat in romantic relationships do better on neuroticism, openness to experience, and extraversion. You get fewer points for consistency and conscientiousness. However, Van Zyl reports that some work has shown different results for openness and extraversion. There is more to it than you think.

From features to facets

Facets tell a more nuanced story. While working on personality traits is informative, what many fail to realize is that every personality trait is made up of sub-traits known as facets. Each feature has six facets. For example, neuroticism consists of fear, angry hostility, depression, self-esteem, impulsiveness, and vulnerability (the full list of facets is given below for the scale3 used in this study).

The facet level also shows where different personality models overlap and contrast. For example, neurotic impulsivity and hostility are features of psychopathy that is part of the dark triad. However, not all neurotic people are psychopathic, and some characteristics of neuroticism, such as self-esteem, may be in opposition to psychopathy. Correlations with broad brushstroke personality traits are therefore misleading when facets are likely to be more accurate. This is true for personality research in general, and not just for infidelity.

To examine the personality correlates of infidelity more closely, van Zyl conducted a study of 685 young adults at a university, most of whom were women (79.2 percent), as part of a larger study of risk behavior. The self-reporting measures included the inventory of basic characteristics for personality and demographics. Participants were asked about infidelity, how many times in their life they had cheated on a romantic partner who was coded “yes” or “no” for the purposes of this study. Both features and facets were analyzed using Bayesian inference, using “fuzzy logic” to identify data patterns.


At the macro level, openness and extraversion were associated with a higher likelihood of lifelong infidelity, while conscientiousness, tolerance, and neuroticism were associated with a lower likelihood. These results are in line with previous results, with areas of consistency and inconsistency where Big 5 traits are associated with infidelity and where it is not. In this case, neuroticism had a small positive association with infidelity.

However, the facet analysis told a more interesting story and went into the underlying predictors of infidelity. In descending order, the strongest facets associated with infidelity were Extroversion’s Facet Ascendance (also known as Assertiveness, Social Audacity) and, to a much lesser extent, Excitement Seeking; the obligatory facet of conscientiousness that increases fidelity; and the affective (emotional) instability facet of neuroticism, which is associated with an increased risk of cheating. Other facets had weak or no correlations.

How not to be betrayed

These data are preliminary, yet fascinating. There are limitations. First, this is a younger age group, mostly women. In this study, at least, however, controlling age, gender, and other demographic factors didn’t change which traits and facets predicted infidelity. In addition, as a pilot study, infidelity was measured with a fundamental question and analyzed as a yes or no outcome rather than looking at the level of infidelity over a long period of relationships.

The length of the relationship was also not reported, but since the average age was around the early 20s, the relationship lengths are shorter, the nature of the relationship is less mature, and the personality traits apply to younger people. While personality is generally stable over life, some traits change over time. Classical research (2017), for example, has found that conscientiousness and tolerance increase with age. This could change the infidelity landscape with age.

Regardless of this, looking at the personality at the facet level is an important step towards a refined understanding of how the personality interacts with decisions and behavior. Personality traits are not accurate predictors. For example, assertiveness is the greatest infidelity risk factor for an extrovert. However, since not all extroverts have a high level of assertiveness, it is okay to be an extrovert without specific risks.

Likewise, it doesn’t seem to be the problem for neuroticism to be overall neurotic, but being emotionally unstable is a problem as feelings can suddenly switch from positive to negative, for example temporarily weakening feelings that keep people from getting lost . For conscientiousness, a less dutiful partner who relates to ethics and morals, and may overlap with dark features, is more of a risk.

If you’re not gauging personality at the beginning of a relationship to identify potential cheaters before it’s too late to easily unpair them, remember that research (2017) shows that a history of infidelity predicts future risk and that scammers are more likely to be scammed again.

Knowing that you are drawn to some of the same traits that make romantic decisions that are prone to infidelity, especially if you’ve done so before, is important to slow down, take a break from dating, and figure out what the attraction is on people who have riskier personality facets. The story doesn’t have to repeat itself, but it does so when it is not activated.

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