Recently published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, researcher Alyssa M. Sucrese and her colleagues investigated romantic jealousy in the context of extramarital friendships (of the opposite sex). The results show that, contrary to previous findings, women tend to be more jealous than men of their partner’s opposite-sex platonic friend and are more concerned with sexual infidelity than emotional infidelity.
There is extensive work that shows sex differences in romantic jealousy, usually within the context of potential rival mates. Research shows that men tend to be more jealous/upset about sexual infidelity (if/when his partner has sexual intercourse with another man) because the man’s paternity certainty is threatened and he risks being cuckolded into rearing offspring that are not genetically his own.
On the other hand, women tend to be more jealous/upset about emotional infidelity, as that woman’s access to resources for her and her children are threatened to be allocated to another woman he can invest in. The degree of jealousy experienced by the partner is partially influenced by how attractive the rival mate is, with more attractive rivals evoking higher levels of jealousy. There is little work regarding romantic jealousy in the context of their partner’s reported platonic friendships.
Considering friends can require maintenance and commitment, opposite-sex friends could elicit jealousy among the spouse. Sucrese and colleagues studied romantic jealousy in the context of their partner’s reported platonic friendships.
In the study, 364 participants were recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk. All participants were married, lived in the United States, were at least 18 years old, and spoke English as their native language. Participants were randomly assigned into one of four groups in which they read different scenarios about imagining their spouse forming a new opposite-sex friendship.
Results of this study show that feelings of jealousy were higher when the spouse’s friend was the same sex as the participant. Surprisingly (to the researchers), women reported higher levels of overall jealousy than men when imagining their spouse’s female friend. This finding suggests that women’s feelings of jealousy are more associated with attractiveness.
The findings also suggest that women’s reproductive success is more threatened by their spouse’s female friend, regardless of romantic intent, likely because the man’s friend requires similar maintenance (such as diversion of time and resources) that women tend to seek from their partners. Contrary to previous work that shows men are typically more jealous of sexual infidelity, this study found no sex differences in jealousy about sexual concerns. Sucrese and colleagues posit there may be certain contexts in which women’s sexual jealousy is higher than men’s.
Another surprising finding is that men, not women, were more emotionally upset when their spouse’s friend was attractive compared to unattractive, regardless of the sex of the friend. Sucrese and colleagues suggest this is the case because men may worry the attractive male friend is a potential mate and an attractive female friend can serve as a “wing woman.”
A limitation of this study is that all participants were married individuals, but couples were not studied. These researchers also did not assess how many extramarital friends their spouse had. Participants whose spouse doesn’t have any opposite sex friends may have been less accurate in identifying how jealous they would be. Finally, only participants who reported some degree of jealousy completed with jealousy attribution items, which could have reduced power in the analysis.
The study, “Just Friends? Jealousy of Extramarital Friendships“, was authored by Alyssa M. Sucrese, Erica E. Burley, Carin Perilloux, Sarah J. Woods, and Zack Bencal.