The Science Of Cheating

Cheater Or Cheatee?

Cheating in relationships is a common occurrence, but most of us don’t know anything when it comes to the science behind cheating. 

Infidelity has now become a fairly fluid term and it’s subjectivity varies from one person to the next. Though, what we can agree on is that being cheated on sucks and unfortunately, for some of us, this is something we have or will experience.

Now, we’re not claiming to have a fool-proof diagnoses as to what motivates people to cheat, but what we can tell you is:

  1. The science behind why some people cheat
  2. What happens in your brain when you get cheated on. 

Are you ready for some science-backed cheating facts? If not… we suggest you stop reading, right now…

1. The Science Behind Why Some People Cheat

The topic of infidelity can be much more complicated than “they didn’t love me enough and that’s why they cheated”. It all comes down to a set of variables and in recent years the link between these variables has been explored, giving us in-depth insight into why infidelity occurs in couples.  

Sex, Money And Cheating 

This is not the title of our new mixtape, but it is the set of variables Christin Munsch, from the university of Connecticut, looks at in her paper, Her Support, His Support: Money, Masculinity, and Marital Infidelity. 

Munsch conducted a study of 2,800 people between the ages of 18-32 and found the more a person is financially dependent on their spouse/partner, the more likely they are to cheat, “economic dependency is associated with higher likelihood of engaging in infidelity”. Though this is also dependent on who in the relationship is the high earner. 

The study found that when women are the breadwinners in a relationship and men are economically dependent on their partners or earn a low income, they may feel their masculinity is being threatened. This results in compensatory, “culturally normative male-typed behavior” i.e – cheating.  In the same situation, the study suggests women would be less likely to cheat, to not challenge their partners masculinity. 

On the other hand, men who are the breadwinners and make more than their partners, are also less likely to cheat. But, and this is the shocker, when men begin to contribute to 70% or more of the household income, they are likely to cheat again. In this scenario, women’s likelihood of cheating doesn’t increase. 

It’s In Your Genes

A number of studies are beginning to suggest infidelity could be genetically predisposed. Whilst this is a scary thought to consider that you/your partner’s genes are working against you and your relationship, let’s take a look at the facts before things get hysterical. 

Research from the University of Queensland claims cheating is common among people who have specific types of oxytocin and vasopressin receptor genes. Both of these hormones play a role in “social functioning”, bonding and behaviour. The brain also releases these hormones to help regulate fear, anxiety and aggression.

The results of the study, which consisted of 7,400 Finnish twins and their siblings, concluded that 40% of cheating in women and 63% of cheating in men is down to their genes. 

2. What Happens In Your Brain When You Get Cheated On

Emotional Pain = Physical Pain 

Finding out that you’ve been cheated on is a tough pill to swallow and you may encounter feelings of sadness, confusion, anger or even relief. It can be emotionally destructive and in turn, cause you to feel physical pain as a response.  

A study from the University of Michigan researched this by evaluating brain images of participants when consensually inflicted with a small burn and shown pictures of their recent ex- partners. 

The researchers concluded that both tests had the same somatosensory representation. This is because when we experience something like heartbreak or cheating, the same parts of our brains are activated and respond as if we were experiencing physical pain, such as a burn. 

It’s An Addiction

Another way the brain deals with emotional events is to treat them as a loss. Fisher et al. from Rutgers University in New Jersey researched the links between Reward, Addiction, And Emotion Regulation Systems Associated with Rejection In Love. 

The team of researchers did this by using MRI scans of 15 participants who had recently been rejected by a partner – but were still “intensely in-love” with them. The participants were then asked to look at pictures of their ex-lovers, amongst other things. The MRI scans of the participants revealed “activation specific to the image of the beloved occurred in areas associated with gains and losses, craving and emotion regulation”. 

This further suggests romantic rejection can cause a sense of loss and have a negative effect on the cheatee. It can even go as far as to activate areas of the brain involved in cocaine addiction, which researchers believe may help to explain the obsessive behaviour which we sometimes see associated with rejection in love. 

Infidelity is one of those things where you never think it will happen to you until it does. Whilst it may feel like the world is crashing down around you, it’s important to note that cheating is a common occurrence and you are not alone. 

Your brain is a wonderful thing and it may grieve a loss for a while, but there is hope. Science has even proven that your brain can learn from this experience and help to distinguish better “mate options” in the future. And if you’re the cheater then… you should probably know that science suggests that a leopard never changes its spots. Sorry!

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Sources Cited:

https://www.asanet.org/sites/default/files/savvy/journals/CS/Jun15ASRFeature.pdf

\https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2015.00335/full

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20445032

https://www2.psy.uq.edu.au/~uqbziets/Zietsch%20et%20al%202014%20Genetic%20analysis%20of%20extrapair%20mating.pdf

https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn3044

https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199376377.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199376377-e-19

All information featured in Peak – Brain Training articles are provided for informational purposes only and are not substitutes for medical or physician advice.

Sajal Azam

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