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Personality and Individual Differences 51 (2011) 657–661

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Personality and Individual Differences

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/paid

Sex drive, attachment style, relationship status and previous infidelity

as predictors of sex differences in romantic jealousy
Jodie L. Burchell ⇑, Jeff Ward 1
Department of Psychology, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Recent research examining sex differences in jealousy suggests that more men than women tend to be
Received 23 December 2010 distressed by sexual infidelity, and that more women than men tend to be distressed by emotional infi-
Received in revised form 30 May 2011 delity. The primary explanation for these findings is that evolution has shaped men’s and women’s
Accepted 3 June 2011
responses to enhance their chances of reproductive success. However, within-sex differences are also
Available online 5 July 2011
found in terms of relative level of distress at sexual or emotional infidelity. This study examined the effect
of alternative variables, particularly those associated with attachment and sexual motivations, on both
between- and within-sex differences in relative distress at sexual and emotional infidelity. A community
Sex differences
sample of 437 adults provided data using a self-report questionnaire. The results showed that sex drive
Evolutionary psychology was a significant predictor of distress at jealousy for both men and women, while attachment avoidance
Romantic attachment and previously being the victim of a sexual infidelity were significant predictors for men only, and rela-
Sex drive tionship status was a significant predictor for women only. Overall, these findings support the evolution-
Infidelity ary model of jealousy, and suggest that sex-specific evolved psychological mechanisms underpinning
Relationship status jealousy are influenced by attachment and sexual motivations.
Ó 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction resources she needed to raise her children to another woman;

hence women are predicted to be more likely to feel jealous in re-
Over 30 years ago, evolutionary psychologists began observing sponse to emotional infidelity cues. Buss (1995) suggested that
that anthropologic, forensic, and clinical data suggested that the sex-specific evolved psychological mechanisms underpin these
sexes appear to differ in their reactions to infidelity cues (Daly & jealousy reactions to sexual and emotional infidelity cues. The
Wilson, 1988; Daly, Wilson, & Weghorst, 1982; Symons, 1979). adaptive pressures specific to each sex mean that the two kinds
Buss, Larsen, Westen, and Semmelroth (1992) provided the first of infidelity are weighted differently for each sex, as described
empirical evidence that sex is a major predictor of romantic jeal- above (Buss et al., 1992).
ousy in response to sexual and emotional infidelity cues, a finding Studies investigating this evolutionary explanation of patterns
supported by over 30 studies to date (Sagarin, 2005). Sexual infi- in jealousy have used a forced-choice methodology which presents
delity cues refer in this literature to signals that a partner is con- participants with two potential infidelity situations – one repre-
templating or actually engaging in sexual intercourse with a senting emotional infidelity, and the other sexual infidelity – and
third party. Emotional infidelity cues signal that a partner is divert- asks them to choose the one they find most distressing (Buss
ing emotional and material resources away from the relationship et al., 1992, 1999). Studies using the forced-choice items have found
and investing them in a third party (Buss et al., 1992). Symons that men outnumber women in rating sexual infidelity as more dis-
(1979) and Buss et al. (1992) hypothesised that the greatest infi- tressing than emotional infidelity, while women outnumber men in
delity-related threat to a heterosexual man’s evolutionary fitness rating emotional infidelity as more distressing than sexual infidel-
was his female partner falling pregnant to another man; hence ity (Sagarin, 2005). As first noted by Buss and colleagues (1992),
men are predicted to be more likely to feel jealous in response to sex does not account for all of the variance in these findings.
sexual infidelity cues. In contrast, the greater threat to a heterosex- Forced-choice methodology studies typically find that most partic-
ual woman was her male partner diverting emotional and material ipants, regardless of sex, rate emotional infidelity scenarios as more
distressing, while a minority of both sexes rate sexual infidelity as
⇑ Corresponding author. Tel.: +61 261255168; fax: +61 261250499. more distressing. This suggests that sex is not the sole, or even
E-mail addresses: jodie.burchell@anu.edu.au (J.L. Burchell), jeff.ward.psych@ the most important, predictor of the most distressing type of infi-
gmail.com (J. Ward).
delity (Buss, 1995; Buss et al., 1992; Sagarin, 2005).
Tel.: +61 261252795; fax: +61 261250499.

0191-8869/$ - see front matter Ó 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
658 J.L. Burchell, J. Ward / Personality and Individual Differences 51 (2011) 657–661

Buss (1995) suggested that the evolved mechanisms underpin- engage in sexual intercourse, thereby completing the actions that
ning jealousy are likely to be sensitive to relevant ontogenetic and will allow them to pass on their genes (Symons, 1979). Studies
immediate contextual factors; in addition to their sex, an individ- demonstrate that men have a higher average level of motivation
ual’s history and current circumstances will predict how distressed to engage in sexual activities, or sex drive, than women (Lippa,
they are by sexual or emotional infidelity. Studies that examine the 2006; Mathes, 2003). Sex drive has also been indirectly connected
influence of variables other than sex upon sexual and emotional with emotional and sexual jealousy. Mathes (2003) asked partici-
jealousy usually limit their scope to a small number of predictors. pants to complete both a modified version of Buss and colleagues’
Two variables which have attracted considerable attention are cur- (1992) jealousy items and an item asking them to choose whether
rent relationship status, and previous experience of infidelity. the loss of emotional warmth or sexual gratification in a relation-
Studies looking at current relationship status have yielded incon- ship would be more distressing. He found that participants who
sistent findings (Murphy, Vallacher, Shackelford, Bjorkland, & endorsed higher sexual jealousy also reported more distress at loss
Yunger, 2006; Voracek, 2001). Murphy and colleagues (2006) did of sexual gratification. This relationship was substantially stronger
not demonstrate that variance in the level of commitment to a for men than for women (Mathes, 2003). These findings suggest
romantic relationship predicted sex differences in jealousy. How- that for men, in particular, sexual gratification is an important part
ever, Voracek (2001) found that relationship status was a signifi- of a romantic relationship, and its loss may contribute to greater
cant predictor of sex differences in jealousy, with men in distress at sexual infidelity (Mathes, 2003). This is consistent with
committed, unmarried relationships reporting significantly more the evidence reviewed by Symons (1979) that suggests that men
concern over sexual infidelity than women in this group. Studies have a stronger sexual motivation than women.
examining previous experience of infidelity – either with oneself
or one’s partner as the perpetrator – have also produced inconsis- 1.1. The current study
tent findings (Becker, Sagarin, Guadagno, Millevoi, & Nicastle,
2004; Berman & Frazier, 2005; Sagarin, Becker, Guadagno, Nicastle, This study uses an exploratory approach to test hypotheses de-
& Millevoi, 2003). Sagarin and colleagues (2003) found sex-specific rived from considering within- and between-sex differences in rel-
interactions between a person’s role in infidelity and jealousy, with ative distress at sexual and emotional infidelity. This investigation
male victims and female perpetrators of infidelity reporting greater is conducted with consideration of the sexual and attachment
sexual jealousy. However, Berman and Frazier (2005) found that, in motivational systems that have evolved to regulate romantic rela-
a group of participants who had experienced a past infidelity, the tionships between the sexes. The following hypotheses are pro-
same proportions of men and women rated sexual infidelity as posed to assess how these systems interact with each other to
worse than emotional. influence the expression of jealousy in reaction to sexual and emo-
While investigating individual, common-sense variables such as tional infidelity cues: (a) replicating previous studies, men and wo-
relationship status and previous exposure to infidelity is one ap- men will show a significant difference in distress at infidelity cues,
proach to the question of likely predictors of relative distress at with more men than women rating sexual infidelity as more dis-
emotional or sexual infidelity, the approach taken in this paper is tressing than emotional infidelity, and more women than men rat-
to consider the question of candidate variables in the broader con- ing emotional infidelity as more distressing than sexual infidelity;
text of evolutionary theory. This approach is derived from Symons and (b) when simultaneously controlling for each other, attach-
(1979), who stated that motivational factors are significant in ment avoidance, sex drive, relationship status and previous per-
determining reproductive success. In mammals, the two key moti- sonal experience with sexual infidelity will significantly interact
vational systems that govern the production and survival of off- with sex of participant as predictors of distress at sexual infidelity.
spring are the attachment and sexual motivation systems (Levy & Based on the literature, men higher in attachment avoidance will
Kelly, 2010; Mathes, 2003; Symons, 1979). Therefore, it is not sur- report higher sexual jealousy than women high in attachment
prising that emotional and sexual threats trigger specific forms of avoidance. However, the patterns of interaction with sex for sex
jealousy, the function of which is to protect the primary relation- drive, relationship status and previous personal experience are
ship (Buss, 1995). The attachment motivational system, first de- not able to be predicted given the mixed evidence to date. In the
fined by Bowlby (1988), is thought to be important in regulating same model, attachment anxiety will predict lower distress at sex-
both parent–child and adult romantic relationships (Hazan & ual infidelity but will not interact with the sex of the participant.
Shaver, 1987). As such, attachment style is regarded by some
researchers as a plausible predictor of relative distress at sexual
and emotional jealousy in adult romantic relationships (Knobloch, 2. Methods
Solomon, & Cruz, 2001; Levy & Kelly, 2010; Levy, Kelly, & Jack,
2006). Levy et al. (2006) demonstrated that men, but not women, 2.1. Participants and procedure
high on attachment avoidance found sexual jealousy more dis-
tressing than emotional jealousy. Using a different measure, Levy A community sample of 437 individuals (139 men) completed a
and Kelly (2010) found that attachment avoidance increased sex- self-report, online questionnaire. The majority of participants were
ual jealousy for men and, to a lesser extent, women. Knobloch recruited using a snowball sampling method. Participants were
et al. (2001) found that attachment anxiety was associated with aged from 18 to 64 years, with a mean age of 26.35 (SD = 8.35)
higher continuously measured emotional jealousy, but this rela- for men and 26.52 (SD = 9.36) for women. The majority of partici-
tionship did not significantly differ by sex. While there is little re- pants were involved in an exclusive romantic relationship (67%) at
search on jealousy in infancy, one study has shown that jealousy in the time of testing.
young infants is triggered by the diversion of the attachment fig-
ure’s attention to another child (Hart, Carrington, Tronick, & Car- 2.2. Measuring distress at sexual versus emotional infidelity
roll, 2004). This study suggests that jealousy may initially be a
form of emotional jealousy appropriate to the needs of infancy, The six forced-choice items developed by Buss and colleagues
where the child needs to ensure that the caregiver remains emo- (1992, 1999) were used to assess distress at sexual or emotional
tionally invested in the child to continue caregiving. infidelity. The forced-choice methodology was used as the majority
The sexual motivational system forms a complement to attach- of the literature to date has used this methodology, meaning a
ment in adult romantic relationships by driving an individual to comparison between this study and previous literature can be
J.L. Burchell, J. Ward / Personality and Individual Differences 51 (2011) 657–661 659

easily made. For each item, a choice of emotional infidelity as the 3.2. Sex differences in individual differences variables
most distressing was scored as 0, and a choice of sexual infidelity
as the most distressing was scored as 1. Using a similar approach A significant sex difference was found for the sex drive scale,
to previous research (e.g., Murphy et al., 2006), the six items were with the means showing that men report having a significantly
summed to yield a continuous sexual jealousy scale with a range higher sex drive than women (t(434) = 6.672, p < .001;
from 0–6, with higher scores indicating higher distress at sexual Mmen = 26.215, SDmen = 6.278, Mwomen = 21.631, SDwomen = 6.867).
infidelity. The sexual jealousy scale demonstrated reasonable The sex difference for ECR-R Avoidance was approaching signifi-
internal reliability for research purposes (a = .785). cance (t(434) = 1.876, p = .061; Mmen = 3.633, SDmen = 1.309,
Mwomen = 3.369, SDwomen = 1.405), but no significant sex difference
was found for ECR-R Anxiety (t(434) = .349, p = .727; Mmen =
2.3. Measures of individual differences variables 3.177, SDmen = 1.269, Mwomen = 3.131, SDwomen = 1.278). A signifi-
cant difference was found for relationship status (v2 (1,
Romantic attachment style was measured using the 36-item N = 435) = 4.149, p = .047; 70% of women and 60% of men were cur-
Experiences in Close Relationships – Revised scale (ECR-R; Fraley, rently involved in an exclusive romantic relationship), indicating
Waller, & Brennan, 2000). The items in the ECR-R focus specifically that women in this sample were significantly more likely than
on attachment style in romantic relationships, measuring both the men to be involved in an exclusive romantic relationship. Finally,
anxiety and avoidance dimensions (Fraley et al., 2000). Higher no significant sex differences were found for sexual infidelity (per-
scores indicate greater anxiety or avoidance in romantic relation- petrator) (v2 (1, N = 433) = .125, p = .723; 13% of women and 14% of
ships. The anxiety and avoidance subscales displayed high internal men reported they had previously committed a sexual infidelity) or
reliability (a = .935 and a = .951, respectively). sexual infidelity (victim) (v2 (1, N = 429) = .334, p = .563; 21% of
Strength of sex drive was measured using the sex drive scale women and 23% of men reported they had previously been the vic-
(Lippa, 2006), which comprises five items that are designed to tim of a sexual infidelity).
measure how motivated people are to engage in sexual activity.
Higher scores indicate that an individual has a higher sex drive. 3.3. Sex differences in the relationship of individual differences
The sex drive scale showed high internal reliability (a = .862). variables to distress at sexual and emotional infidelity
Relationship status was measured by a single item, asking par-
ticipants ‘‘Are you currently involved in an exclusive romantic rela- Bivariate correlations between the sexual jealousy scale and
tionship?’’ Sexual infidelity (perpetrator) was measured by asking individual differences variables were performed, separated by
participants ‘‘While involved in a romantic relationship, have you sex, in order to both evaluate any sex-specific relationships be-
ever been sexually involved with someone other than your partner, tween these variables and the suitability of these variables for a
and this caused your partner distress?’’ Sexual infidelity (victim) regression analysis (see Tables 1a and 1b). The relationships be-
was measured by asking participants ‘‘While involved in a romantic tween the individual differences variables and the sexual jealousy
relationship, has your partner been sexually involved with someone scale were substantially different for each sex.
other than you, and this caused you distress?’’ The distress qualifier Potential sex differences in the relationship of the individual
was added to the infidelity questions in order to exclude extradyad- differences variables to distress at sexual and emotional infidelity
ic sexual activities that did not evoke a jealousy reaction from either were assessed by creating interaction terms between sex and the
the adulterer or the victim. All categorical variables were coded so individual differences variables. A simultaneous linear regression
that ‘no’ was coded 0 and ‘yes’ was coded 1. model using these interaction terms was created with the sexual
jealousy scale as the dependent variable. Backwards elimination
was used to arrive at the final model, using the method recom-
3. Results mended by Kleinbaum, Kupper, and Muller (1988), where a full
set of theoretical derived variables is reduced to the most parsimo-
3.1. Replication of sex differences nious model by removing variables that are not statistically signif-
icant and whose removal does not change relationships between
A significant sex difference was demonstrated for the sexual other variables in the model. The interaction terms between sex
jealousy scale (t(435) = 6.379, p < 0.001), indicating that there and ECR-R Avoidance (b = .345, p = .015, g2p = .108), relationship
was a significant difference in the way that men and women re- status (b = .236, p = .005, g2p = .125) and sexual infidelity (victim)
sponded to the sexual and emotional infidelity forced-choice (b = .126, p = .044, g2p = .089) were significant, as was the main ef-
items. The mean scores for men (M = 2.790; SD = 2.093) and wo- fect for the sex drive scale (b = .156, p = .001, g2p = .145). The main
men (M = 1.550; SD = 1.172) show that men were more likely than effects for sex (b = .008, p = .928, g2p = .004), ECR-R Avoidance
women to be more distressed by sexual infidelity, replicating pre- (b = .052, p = .376, g2p = .039), relationship status (b = .103,
vious findings of Buss and colleagues (1992, 1999), and supporting p = .093, g2p = .074) and sexual infidelity (victim) (b = .045,
hypothesis (a). p = .416, g2p = .036) were not significant.

Table 1a
Bivariate correlation table between distress at sexual and emotional infidelity and the individual differences variables for men.

Variable Sex drive ECR-R Anxiety ECR-R Avoidance Relationship status Sexual infidelity (perpetrator) Sexual infidelity (victim)
Sexual jealousy scale .197* .145 .289** .074 .046 .273**
Sex drive .082 .075 .129 .086 .001
ECR-R Anxiety .454** .157 .065 .283**
ECR-R Avoidance .225** .019 .293**
Relationship status .024 .235**
Sexual infidelity (perpetrator) .278**
p < 0.05.
p < 0.01.
660 J.L. Burchell, J. Ward / Personality and Individual Differences 51 (2011) 657–661

Table 1b
Bivariate correlation table between distress at sexual and emotional infidelity and the individual differences variables for women.

Variable Sex drive ECR-R Anxiety ECR-R Avoidance Relationship status Sexual infidelity (perpetrator) Sexual infidelity (victim)
Sexual jealousy scale .107 .050 .084 .121* .014 .090
Sex drive .020 .162* .175** .053 .046
ECR-R Anxiety .515** .297** .101 .252**
ECR-R Avoidance .421** .103 .188**
Relationship status .079 .141*
Sexual infidelity (perpetrator) .323**
p < 0.05.
p < 0.01.

In the current study, attachment avoidance was a significant

Table 2 predictor of the sexual jealousy scale for men. As discussed in
Regression model assessing individual differences variables predicting distress at
sexual or emotional infidelity, separated by sex.
the introduction of this paper, the likely role of the attachment
motivational system as a potential factor in shaping the evolved
Variable Men Women jealousy mechanism has been demonstrated in other studies, with
b g 2
p b g2p p attachment avoidance being a significant predictor of sexual jeal-
Sex drive .239 .237 .003 .149 .147 .018
ousy, particularly for men (Levy & Kelly, 2010; Levy et al., 2006).
Relationship status – – – .142 .140 .013 Individuals high in attachment avoidance are thought to have
Sexual infidelity (victim) .222 .213 .008 – – – deactivated the attachment system in response to childhood expe-
ECR-R Avoidance .245 .233 .004 – – – riences with their caregiver and as a result do not value intimacy
and emotional closeness (Bowlby, 1988; Knobloch et al., 2001).
They are therefore less likely to be distressed by an emotional infi-
For ease of interpretation of the interaction terms, separate
delity than they would by a sexual infidelity (Levy et al., 2006). It
simultaneous linear regression models were created for men and
remains unclear why attachment avoidance is not also a significant
women using the four variables that were significant in the inter-
predictor of sexual jealousy for women, although it may be related
action model, as recommended by Baron and Kenny (1986). For
to the idea that women’s higher investment in caregiving than men
women, being in a relationship was a significant negative predictor
may translate into a higher level of attachment motivation (George
of the sexual jealousy scale, and sex drive was a significant positive
& Solomon, 1999). Indirect evidence in support of this hypothesis is
predictor (see Table 2). The sum of the effect sizes for relationship
perhaps indicated in the finding that, for women, current relation-
status and sex drive indicates that, for women, 28.7% of variance in
ship status is a predictor of more distress at emotional infidelity.
the sexual jealousy scale is accounted for by these two predictors.
This finding may suggest that even where an avoidant attachment
For men, there were three significant positive predictors of the sex-
style has developed in women, the stronger underlying attachment
ual jealousy scale: ECR-R Avoidance, the sex drive scale and sexual
motivation may result in a higher valuing of the attachment bond
infidelity (victim) (see Table 2). The sum of the effect sizes for ECR-
than is found in men.
R Avoidance, the sex drive scale and sexual infidelity (victim) indi-
The other major motivational system governing adult romantic
cates that, for men, 68.3% of variance in the sexual jealousy scale is
relationships is the sexual motivational system. This study directly
accounted for by these three predictors. These results partially sup-
measured strength of sex drive and found that a higher sex drive
port hypothesis (b).
predicted greater distress at sexual infidelity in both men and wo-
men. This is consistent with Mathes (2003) finding that individuals
4. Discussion who valued sexual gratification over emotional warmth were more
likely to be distressed by sexual infidelity, as well as his explana-
We replicated previous findings that more men than women re- tion that a major part of the threat that sexual infidelity poses
ported sexual infidelity as more distressing than emotional infidel- for individuals with a high sex drive is loss of access to sexual grat-
ity, and that more women than men reported emotional infidelity ification as their partner is granting this sexual access to a third
as more distressing than sexual infidelity (Buss et al., 1992, 1999). party. As is the case with relationship status for women, the fact
In addition, the results demonstrated a number of sex-specific that sex drive explains more variance in sexual jealousy for men
individual differences predictors of jealousy, with attachment than women supports the evolutionary model, where the loss of
avoidance and previously being the victim of a sexual infidelity sexual benefits derived from romantic relationships has more seri-
being significant predictors of a higher sexual jealousy scale score ous evolutionary implications for men than women (Symons,
for men, and being in a relationship a significant predictor of a low- 1979). This is also reflected in the significant association between
er sexual jealousy scale score for women. For both sexes, sex drive a past infidelity and jealousy for men (Sagarin et al., 2003).
was a significant predictor of a higher sexual jealousy scale score. Overall, these findings show the importance of understanding
Overall, the model for men explains a greater percentage of vari- the wider context within which an evolved psychological mecha-
ance in the sexual jealousy scale, with the predictors accounting nism develops, as first stated by Buss et al. (1992) and Buss
for almost 70 percent of variance in jealousy compared to the al- (1995). Previous studies have generally concentrated on individual
most 30 percent accounted for in the model for women. An impor- differences variables with either an emotional or a sexual valence.
tant part of the model of the evolved jealousy mechanism is that it This study incorporates both, showing how developmental vari-
will be sensitive to relevant ontogenetic and immediate situational ables that are generally connected to sexual experiences or motiva-
experiences (Buss, 1995; Buss et al., 1992). While a number of tions, such as sex drive, attachment avoidance or being the victim
studies have examined the relationship between a limited number of a past sexual infidelity, are significant predictors of higher sex-
of variables and sexual and emotional jealousy, including attach- ual jealousy, especially for men. On the other hand, immediate sit-
ment, sex drive, relationship status, and past infidelity experience, uational variables connected with relationship rewards, such as
the current study was able to investigate the relative role of each of relationship status, are connected with higher emotional jealousy
the above variables using multivariate statistical modelling. for women. While a very preliminary examination of what is likely
J.L. Burchell, J. Ward / Personality and Individual Differences 51 (2011) 657–661 661

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Acknowledgments Harris (2003). Personality and Social Psychology Review, 9(1), 62–75.
Sagarin, B. J., Becker, D. V., Guadagno, R. E., Nicastle, L. D., & Millevoi, A. (2003). Sex
The authors acknowledge the valuable assistance with and differences (and similarities) in jealousy: The moderating influence of infidelity
feedback on this project provided by Joshua McKinney, Amy Dawel experience and sexual orientation of the infidelity. Evolution and Human
and Carly Pymont. Behavior, 24(1), 17–23. doi:10.1016/S1090-5138(02)00106-X.
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