There are plenty of things that are scientifically proven to be contagious, from yawning to the common cold. But have you ever wondered if cheating is contagious? Well, research shows that exposure to infidelity can normalize the behaviour in monogamous heterosexual relationships — and make you more likely to cheat.
A new study published in Archives of Sexual Behaviour looked at individuals who learn about other people cheating — and explores whether or not those individuals had a greater likelihood of being unfaithful in their own monogamous relationships as a result.
According to the researchers, when infidelity is more pervasive in your life, desire for your current partner decreases. Meanwhile, your desire for others increases.
“Knowing that others are having extradyadic affairs may make people more comfortable when having such affairs themselves,” the authors hypothesized, according to Psychology Today.
Two out of three studies confirmed participants’ interest in cheating
The researchers tested their predictions in not one, but three different studies targeting people in heterosexual monogamous relationships.
The findings in the first study actually opposed the hypothesis, but the second and third studies showed some interesting results.
Study 1: watching a video featuring infidelity
The first study followed undergraduate students from Israel in committed relationships that had been ongoing for at least four months. Some students watched a video that estimated that infidelity took place in 86 per cent of relationships, while others saw one that claimed it only took place in 11 per cent of relationships.
Then, participants were asked to write about a sexual fantasy about someone who was not their current partner. The results showed that the video estimates did not affect levels of desire for a person’s current partner.
Study 2: reading a confession describing cheating
The second study, on the other hand, followed undergraduate students from Israel that were in committed heterosexual relationships lasting at least 12 months. Some students would read what appeared to be a confession from someone that described a form of romantic cheating, while others read about cheating on schoolwork.
Participants then viewed photos of 16 individuals and had to decide quickly whether or not they could be a romantic partner. Those who read confessions about infidelity were more likely to respond “yes” to a photo, which meant that they were interested in more potential partners than those who read academic cheating confessions.
Study 3: receiving information about cheating
In the final study, undergraduate students from Israel in committed heterosexual relationships lasting at least four months read survey results which either indicated that romantic infidelity was present in 85 per cent of relationships, or academic cheating prevalence was 85 per cent. They were then prompted to interact with a research assistant over instant message.
The research assistant — whose photograph was tied to their instant messaging account – would ask about the participants’ hobbies, interests and food preferences. As the interview came to a close, the research assistant would state, “You definitely raised my curiosity! I hope to see you again and this time face to face.”
After the conversation, participants were asked about their attraction to the research assistant and their commitment to their current romantic partner.
The results of the third study indicated that those who were given information about the prevalence of romantic cheating were less committed in their current relationships compared to those who heard about academic cheating. Participants that read the results of the romantic infidelity survey were also more likely to express a desire to chat with the research assistant again.
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Regardless of the conditions, men were also overall less committed to their relationships than women.
As a result, the authors say that “exposure to adultery norms may, for example, render long-term goals less prominent and thereby reduce guilt feelings or soften resistance toward infidelity by lessening the motivation to protect the current relationship.”