Contemporary Research

Sex differences in jealousy: the recall of cues to sexual and emotional infidelity in personally more and less threatening context conditions – Achim Schutzwohl and Stephanie Koch (2004)


 To test Buss’s (1992) belief that males fear sexual infidelity more, while females fear emotional infidelity more.


An opportunity sample of 100 males and 100 females German university students formed the sample. Experimental procedures, scenarios and response alternatives were presented on a computer screen. Participants were presented with four scenarios involving social situations, each with a choice of two alternative responses. Only the responses to scenario four were of interest to the study. Participants were asked to vividly imagine the scenarios before responding. Participants were told that the scenarios referred to romantic relationships they had been in, were currently in or would like to be in. 

Scenario four read as follows:

‘Imagine that you discover your partner formed both a deep emotional and a passionate sexual relationship with another person. Which aspect of your partner’s involvement would make you more jealous?’

  • The deep emotional relationship
  • The passionate sexual relationship

The description of sexual and emotional infidelities was counterbalanced across participants. Choices were recorded along with the times taken to make a decision after scenario presentation.


Both sexes reported more jealousy concerning the partner’s emotional involvement, but more males (37%) than females (20%) selected their partner’s sexual involvement as making them more jealous.

Women who selected emotional infidelity reached their decision faster than women selecting sexual infidelity.

Men who selected sexual infidelity reached their decision faster than men selecting emotional infidelity.


Men who are more jealous of sexual infidelity employ less elaborate decision strategies than men who are more jealous of emotional infidelity, while women who are more jealous of emotional infidelity employ less elaborate decision strategies than women who are more jealous of sexual infidelity.

Men and women who choose their adaptively primary infidelity type-that is, sexual for men, emotional for women – rely on their initial response tendency suggested by their respective jealousy mechanism, whereas men and women selecting their adaptively secondary infidelity type engage in additional considerations that lead them to override their initial response tendency.


  • Previous results from similar research, suggesting that women who select the emotional infidelity option engage in a more elaborate decision- making process than women selecting sexual infidelity, are refuted by this study.
  • The study does not identify the exact nature of the decision processes undertaken, especially by men, when selecting their adaptively secondary infidelity type.
  • ResearchBuss (1989) tested participants from 37 countries, finding that males prefer young, physically attractive females, while females prefer resource rich, ambitious, industrious males, supporting the idea that gender based ideas of attractiveness are biological to nature.

  • Davis (1990) performed a content analysis of personal advertisements, finding that men look for health and attractiveness, while offering wealth and resources. Females look for resources and status, while offering beauty and youth, supporting the idea of evolutionary based gender differences in relationship formation. Additional support came from Dunbar (1995), who analysed 900 personal advertisements from four US newspaper, to find that 42% of males sought youthfulness, while only 25% of females did. Of males, 44% sought attractiveness, while only 22% of females did, supporting the socio-biological idea that males and females have different reasons for forming relationships.Pawlowski & Dunbar (1999) examined the idea that older women do not disclose their true age in personal advertisements because men tend to judge prospective female partners on age, as it correlates with fertility. This was found to be true, especially for women aged 35-50, implying that women disguise their age in order to find high quality partners before reproductive opportunities are ended by the menopause.

    Toma et al (2008), who used personal advertisements to research males, thought it was more acceptable to lie about their education and income than females, while Kurzban & Weeden (2005) found females are more likely to declare their weight as less than it was. This illustrates how resource richness is seen as attractive in males, while physical attractiveness as a sign of fertility is seen as attractive in females.

    Cartwright (2000) found that women with symmetrical breasts were more fertile than most asymmetrically breasted women, supporting the idea that body symmetry indicates reproductive fitness. Additional support comes from Penton-Voak et al (2001), who found that females prefer males with greater facial symmetry , an indication of developmental stability that would be passed on to their sons, increasing reproductive potential.

    Langlois & Roggman (1990) used computer-composite images to produce faces of varying symmetrical quality, finding a preference for symmetrical faces, faces identical in shape and form on both sides. This applied to both males and females. Cartwright (2000) supported this, finding that men prefer photographs of women with symmetrical faces and vice versa.

    It seems that symmetry, which tends to be inherited, equates with fitness. Only individuals with good genes and food supplies develop perfectly symmetrical faces.

    Singh (1993) used data from 50 years of beauty contest winners and Playboy centrefolds to assess waist to hip ratios of attractive women. He found that a small waist set against full hips was a consistent feature of female attractiveness, while breast size, overall body weight and physique varied over the years, suggesting that waist to hip ratio is an indicator of reproductive ability.


    • Much early evidence for children born from sneak copulations is based on questionnaires and blood samples and so may not be reliable. Estimates of children born from sneak copulations also vary widely, which may be due to cultural differences, or to the type of samples used- for instance, using DNA data where males had suspicions of non-paternity is more likely to find such evidence. Evidence from supposedly monogamous species in the animal kingdom is supportive though, with Birkhead (1990) using DNA samples to find that 8% of zebra finch offspring result from females’ sneaky copulations with non-partner males.
    • Miller (1997) sees evolution as shaping human culture- that is, language, art, humour and music, which act as courtship displays, attracting sexual partners.
    • The evolutionary explanation presumes heterosexuality and that all relationships are sexual; it is therefore oversimplified and cannot explain long distance relationships, like those conducted over the internet. It also cannot explain couples choosing not to have children, as it assumes all relationships are motivated by a desire to reproduce.
    • Diamond (1992) believes males, especially in early adulthood, use drugs and indulge in risky behaviours, like bungee jumping, to advertise their reproductive fitness in the face of adversity, providing support for the handicap hypothesis.
    • The practice of checking partners’ mobile phone records, email accounts, etc. can be regarded as a modern form of mate guarding, where checks are made on partners to see whether they have been sexually/emotionally unfaithful.
    • Younger males sometimes desire substantially older women- this goes against evolutionary theory, but may occur due to males wanting to mate with females proven to be fertile.
      • Females often alter their appearance through the use of makeup and cosmetic surgery and lie about their age in order to appear younger and more fertile. Males use deceit to exaggerate their resource capabilities and feign love in order to persuade females to mate with them. This supports the idea of males and females using different strategies to maximise reproductive potential.
      • Women do not need men in the way they once did and as predicted by evolutionary theory. Females in Western cultures have greater financial security and employment opportunities, and this occurred simultaneously with a rise in single women having children according to the Office for National Statistics, 82,000 single women over the age of 30 had babies in Britain in 2006, and 25% of British families are single parent families (90% are female led). These statistics are not consistent with women needing male partners to provide for them and their offspring.
      • Evolutionary theory explains female choosiness and males’ competitiveness in terms of maximising reproductive potential. However, this can also be explained by gender role socialisation.

      Factors Affecting Attraction in Romantic Relationships

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