A Google search of why people cheat on their partners will reveal hundreds of posts with titles like “Five Reasons People Cheat” or “The Three Excuses Scammers Use”. Often times, the confirmatory error is readily apparent in these posts and even in some of the scientific studies to be found. Often times, when reading the comments on these posts, readers contribute far more than the author’s three or five reasons. It does not take a lot of effort in either qualitative or quantitative research to identify a multitude of factors that play a role in the decision to infidelity.
A study by Apostolou and Panayiotou (2019) came about with the question: What are the reasons that motivate people not to cheat on their partner? In interviews with 576 study participants, the authors used a mixed methods approach to identify 47 reasons that the participants used to explain what prevented them from cheating. In addition to in-depth interviews, the researchers also conducted a survey that asked respondents to name at least five reasons that kept them from cheating in a relationship they had. After the reasons were identified, the researchers classified the 47 reasons into eight general factors and two more domains consisting of:
- The relationship’s utility fitness
- The cost of cheating in the relationship.
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The general factors that consist of the 47 reasons given as motivators against fraud were:
- Satisfaction with the relationship
- Feelings of guilt
- Afraid it might happen to them
- No provocation
- Fear of partner reaction
- Shame when it comes out
- You don’t want to get into trouble
- Social stigma [for a complete list of the reasons that make up these factor categories, I refer you to the original study].
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found that people were less likely to cheat when the relationship was highly beneficial and cheating was costly. In turn, those motivated to cheat operated on a low-benefit, low-cost strategy. The partner’s reactions and social stigmatization were identified as potential costs for women. It was believed that an increased benefit for men in cheating is to be found in improved access to sexual partners.
Aside from the cost-benefit analysis, which is often associated with swap theory, women in the study reported less motivation to cheat than men when they were satisfied with their relationship and feared feelings of guilt. It was found that the higher they score in conscientiousness the less likely study participants are to commit infidelity. While participants with a high level of openness and willingness to have new experiences were more likely to cheat. Overall, women were less motivated to commit infidelity when they found high scores for conscientiousness, low openness, satisfaction with their relationships, and in an environment where fraudulent women were negatively affected by social stigma. Men were more motivated to cheat when they had low conscientiousness, high openness, unsatisfactory relationships, and not fear of social stigma due to the standards of their social environment.
Can we put an end to all of the reasons why people are motivated to cheat on their intimate partners? Hardly. The factors identified in this study do not provide all motivators. I can think of several in passing. And I am sure that the readers of this post will write to me about their own reasons and experiences with these reasons (of course, they are happy to write).
The study’s authors recognize the limits of their work. They indicate that cultural factors need to be considered and further explored. For example, how do fraud strategies differ between cultures where infidelity is considered a criminal offense and those that do not? And to what extent does the saturation of religious dogmas from one culture to another play a role? In fact, the study by Apostolou and Panayiotou was carried out in Greece, where the authors report that> 55 percent of Greek Cypriot men and women report a high propensity for infidelity. Compared to the USA, several studies show that one in three men and one in five women cheats in their lifetime.
In addition, when questioning or questioning people why they cheat or not cheat, it is assumed that they are aware of the impulses behind their decisions and actions. This is not always the case. Some people act without a clear understanding of the motivation behind their actions. The study by Apostolou and Panayiotou complements the scientific compendium on the subject of infidelity, but also serves to encourage and force researchers to do more work.