How Infidelity Plays a Role in Divorce
By: M. Scott Gordon
There are many different reasons that marriages do not work out, from financial difficulties in the marriage to communication problems between the spouses. One of the primary reasons that couples in the Chicago area get divorced is infidelity. While infidelity frequently leads to the dissolution of marriage, it is important to understand that other factors lead to cheating in a marriage. In other words, infidelity does not simply happen. Instead, there are a wide variety of factors that can lead one or both spouses to engage in an extramarital affair.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, learning more about the predictive factors for infidelity can give us insight into one of the most common reasons for divorce and thereby may be able to help couples prevent infidelity in both the short and long term.
Study Seeks to Identify Factors that Lead to Infidelity in Order to Prevent It
The recent study was conducted by researchers in the psychology department at Florida State University (FSU). Through the study, the psychologists sought to “reveal factors that lead to infidelity, as well as prevent it.” While numerous other studies have addressed infidelity in one form or another, this study is the first of its kind to “find evidence of psychological responses that help a person to avoid infidelity—one of the surest ways to cause a breakup—and stay in a long-term relationship.”
How did the study work? The team of FSU researchers looked at 233 recently married couples for a period of up to 3.5 years. During that time, they “documented intimate details about their relationships, including marital satisfaction, long-term commitment, whether they had engaged in infidelity, and if they were still together.”
The authors of the study then assessed the subjects through two different psychological processes: “Attentional Disengagement and Evaluative Devaluation of potential romantic partners.” What are these processes? Attentional disengagement refers to the ability of a partner to direct his or her attention away from someone else who that partner finds attractive and who otherwise could be a romantic option but for the marriage. Evaluative devaluation refers to a partner’s tendency to “downgrade the attractiveness of another person, even if he or she is especially good looking.” Everyone engages in these processes to some extent, according to the researchers. What did they find through the study?
Factors That Can Lead to Infidelity in Chicago area Marriages
To properly assess the subjects’ attentional disengagement and evaluative devaluation, the researchers showed pictures to each of the subjects of “highly attractive men and women, as well as average-looking men and women.” The psychologists found that participants in the study who showed high levels of attentional disengagement were less likely to cheat on their spouses. The important factor here was the amount of time in which the participant looked away from the photo: “individuals who looked away in as little as a few hundred milliseconds faster than average were nearly 50 percent less likely to have sex outside marriage.” Likewise, those subjects who took a longer period of time were more likely to cheat.
In addition, the participants’ tendency to devalue the attractiveness of other people were also less likely to engage in infidelity. Since many people are not aware that they engage in these processes to differing degrees, the authors of the study suggest that recognizing these tendencies could help someone to avoid infidelity in the future.
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