How would you react if you found out that your partner had cheated? Would the emotional betrayal outweigh the physical one, or would the sexual infidelity hurt more than the undermining of your love?
A new study says that the answer might have a lot to do with your gender.
According to evolutionary psychologist Barry Kuhle's recent study, which was published in Personality and Individual Differences, while men are more likely to interrogate their partners about the sexual nature of an affair, a woman will often ask her partner whether he is in love with the other woman.
How did Kuhle discover which aspect of infidelity bothered men and women most?
Well, since it isn't exactly ethical -- or possible -- to require one group of study participants to go and cheat on their spouses and another group to remain faithful, researchers used the reality television show "Cheaters" to collect observational data about how partners react when confronting their partners about infidelities.
Kuhle, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, had student researchers catalogue the different tactics used in 75 affair confrontations featured on the show -- 45 in which the victims were women, and 35 in which the victims were men. The results showed that while 57 percent of men versus 29 percent of women were likely to ask about sex, posing questions such as "Did you have sex with him/her?" and "Was he/she better than me in bed?," 71 percent of women -- versus 43 percent of men -- asked if the cheater was in love with the other man or woman.
Kuhle told LiveScience.com that his interest in the "sex differences in jealous interrogations" was sparked after watching "Closer," a 2004 film starring Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Jude Law that chronicled their characters' infidelities.
"During a pivotal, tough-to-watch scene, Clive Owen's character interrogates Julia Roberts' character Anna about the nature of her infidelity, and his grilling centers on sex," Kuhle explained to Live Science. "He bombards her with a barrage of questions about the frequency, timing, whereabouts, type, quality and orgasmic nature of the sex she had with the interloper. Befuddled by the sexually obsessed nature of the interrogation, Anna asks, 'God, why is the sex so important?'"
Reality TV, however, might not be the most reliable source for natural human interaction. Any "Real Housewife" can attest to the fact that shows are often edited to become more dramatic or viewer-friendly, and many other reality show stars complain about editors taking their words and reactions out of context. Paula Abdul, for example, told USA Today that the way different clips were combined made it difficult for her to watch her own Bravo reality series "Hey Paula."
"They'd put a camera on me when I got wind that my dog was in a coma, and they'd make it (seem) like it was about hair and makeup," the former "American Idol" judge said.
"Cheaters", in particular, has been challenged about its accuracy. After host Joey Greco got stabbed on camera while assisting a woman confront her cheating partner, "Inside Edition" reported allegations that the stabbing had been faked. The Houston Press ran an investigative piece that claimed five twenty-somethings who appeared on the show were paid $400 a pop to act out phony scenarios (and 50 more dollars to refer a friend). Producers denied these claim.
But even in spite of the suspect veracity of "reality" television, evolutionary biology supports Kuhle's study, he says.
Kuhle told Today.com, "Modern men have inherited an evolved wisdom from a long line of ancestral men who could never be 100 percent certain that a child was actually theirs." In other words, it makes sense in evolutionary terms for men to be more concerned about the sexual nature of a partner's affair.
Ancient women, on the other hand, did not run the same risks of their partners' sexual infidelities, according to Kuhle. Rather, women were more threatened that their partner would form an emotional bond with a different partner and, therefore, shift their time, commitment and protection to another woman.
Other studies have chronicled the ways men and women differ in how they interpret infidelity and experience jealousy.
A 2009 study published in "Evolutionary Psychology" polled 130 Canadians and found that while men felt guiltier for cheating on their partner sexually, women felt guiltier about being unfaithful emotionally. Men continued that they would feel guiltier about having a one-night stand than falling in love with someone else (without sex). Women had the opposite response.
Furthermore, when Penn State clinical psychologists Kenneth Levy and Kristen Kelley asked 400 people if it would be more upsetting for their partner to form an emotional bond with another person or sleep with them, men tended to be more disturbed by sex and women by the emotional bond.
However, that study, published in January 2010 in "Psychological Science," also implied that these reactions to cheating have to do with more than just gender and are rather explained by how a person was raised to deal with intimacy. Levy and Kelley found that both men and women with "dismissive" or "hyperindependent" senses of detachment -- meaning that they were taught as a child to avoid intimacy -- were more jealous of sexual infidelities. Those with "secure" attachment, male or female, were more likely to be disturbed by emotional infidelity.
What do you think? When it comes to cheating, are men more likely to be jealous of sex and women of an emotional betrayal?
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more