Mind & Body

Two Traits Determine How Likely You Are to Cheat on Your Partner

They say that nothing hurts like heartbreak does. Unfortunately, one of the risks of a romantic relationship is that your partner will betray your trust. If only there was some way to predict a person's likelihood of cheating before you actually start dating. Well, the good news is that there is a way to make an informed guess. The bad news? We have no idea how you're going to suggest it.

A Very Long Disengagement

In a new study led by Dr. Jim McNulty and his team at Florida State University, researchers kept tabs on 233 couples for three and a half years, beginning when they were newlyweds. They homed in on two distinct traits that they thought might influence the likelihood of cheating and organized two different studies to measure each trait's influence on unfaithful behavior. In order to do so, they gave both partners in each couple a behavioral test or two, then kept in correspondence with them for the remainder of the experiment. Occasionally, they asked participants to fill out a survey about any infidelity, how committed they felt to their partner, the happiness of their relationship, and whether or not they were still married.

The first behavioral trait the researchers looked at was something called "attentional disengagement." This basically refers to the amount of time between when a person starts paying attention to something and when they stop, often a matter of milliseconds. The phenomenon has been used in lots of other psychological studies, like this one that showed how the subconscious ways we decide where to direct our attention shape our mood and outlook. But for the FSU study, the researchers wanted to see how quickly the participants tore their eyes from pictures of attractive people. The results? The faster people looked away from the faces of very attractive people, the less likely they were to cheat — even shaving a couple hundred milliseconds off their gaze was enough to reduce the chances of infidelity by half.

Happy Evaluat-entine's Day

The other main factor on the researchers' radar? What they call "devaluation of alternatives." It's also long been a staple of psychological studies into relationship dynamics. For the second group, the researchers didn't just measure how quickly the participants shifted their eyes elsewhere. They also explicitly asked the recruits to evaluate the attractiveness of a set of portraits. The people who evaluated attractive portraits as less attractive were significantly more likely to stay faithful to their partners. Makes sense if you think about it, although the researchers point out that neither devaluation nor disengagement are conscious behaviors. In other words, you might not be aware that you're doing either one — but knowing about how they work might give you a foundation to start cultivating more partner-friendly habits.

Get stories like this one in your inbox each morning. Sign up for our daily email here.

You need to know the way you convey your emotions and the ways other people convey theirs if you're going to make meaningful connections to your partner or to anyone else. Travis Bradberry's "Emotional Intelligence 2.0" can help (it's free with your trial membership to Audible). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Science Tries Preventing Infidelity

Written by Reuben Westmaas August 31, 2018

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.