Are you the type of person that worries whether your partner is cheating on you? Well now, psychologists have revealed a number of factors that could help to predict such infidelity.
For two separate studies, researchers from Florida State University followed 233 newly married couples over a period of 3 and a half years, examining the participants' behavioural tendencies and how faithful they were in their relationships.
The investigations centred on two psychological processes known as 'attentional disengagement' and 'evaluative devaluation'.
Attentional disengagement is when you are able to move your attention away from something – in this case, pictures of attractive people who may be considered potential partners – while evaluative devaluation is when you mentally 'downgrade' a potential romantic partner, even if you think they are especially attractive.
The researchers showed participants pictures of attractive people of the opposite sex, and also photos of people with average looks – based on the team's own measures.
They found that the individuals who were able to disengage their attention from the photos of attractive people faster than average were nearly 50% less likely to cheat on their spouses. On the other hand, participants who took longer than average to look away from the photos were found to be more likely to cheat.
Furthermore, individuals who mentally downgraded the attractive people in the photos – rating them as less attractive – were also less likely to cheat on their spouses. These cognitive processes are not conscious, according to the researchers.
"People are not necessarily aware of what they're doing or why they're doing it," said Jim McNulty. "These processes are largely spontaneous and effortless, and they may be somewhat shaped by biology and/or early childhood experiences."
The team also identified a number of other factors that are associated with infidelity.
Those who were less satisfied with their relationships and younger people were more likely to cheat on their partners. And surprisingly, those with a satisfactory sex lives were at higher risk of infidelity, perhaps because they had a more positive attitude towards sex, the researchers speculate.
Intriguingly, woman who were rated as less attractive by the researchers were more likely to cheat – and be cheated on – whereas men's attractiveness did not appear to affect whether they would be unfaithful.
Lastly, men who had numerous sexual partners before marriage were more likely to cheat, while the reverse was true with women – those who had had fewer sexual partners before marriage were more likely to cheat.
The findings have been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.