Personality, situation, and infidelity in romantic relationships

Hergert, Jane

The three essays of this dissertation deal with several aspects of sexual infidelity in romantic relationships. While I investigate the importance of sexual fidelity as a mate selection criterion in the first essay, the second essay gives an overview over the published research on antecedents of infidelity. Consequently, I propose an integrative model of infidelity which is tested and partially confirmed with longitudinal data in the final essay. Certain characteristics of people, denoted by mate selection criteria, are assumed to play a crucial role in guiding one's decision for or against a person as a mate. In the first essay, I investigated to what extent social desirability influences ratings on the relative importance of certain mate selection criteria (research goal 1), how the importance of mate selection criteria differs due to biological sex and sexual orientation (research goal 2), and to what extent mate selection criteria are reflected in actual mate selection processes (research goal 3). There was partial evidence that the importance of socially undesirable criteria like physical attractiveness, income, and sexual skills is under-reported when the measure is direct self-report. When measured with a policy-capturing design on the other hand, a method that allows to control for effects of social desirability, seemingly unimportant characteristics (like income and sexual skill) gained importance. Furthermore, sex differences in the relative importance of physical attractiveness (men>women), income, and generosity (men<women) emerged, all in line with predictions drawn from evolutionary psychology. Interaction effects between sex and sexual orientation were only apparent for income (heterosexual women and homosexual men placed more emphasis on it than heterosexual men and homosexual women) and sexual fidelity (more important for all subgroups but homosexual men). Finally, response surface analysis showed that similarity between the ideal and current partner on humor is of particular importance for relationship satisfaction suggesting that (un)met mate selection criteria actually affect romantic relationships. The second essay is a systematic, narrative review that aims to portray all explanatory approaches of infidelity that have been published within the past decades of empirical effort. The main focus lies on summarizing the peer-reviewed, empirical literature that has been published since 2010: The biological approach assumes that genetic influences and hormonal effects can explain infidelity. The evolutionary approach proposes that intersexual differences in parental investment may help to explain differential patterns of male and female sexual infidelity. The process of human sperm competition and changes in mate preferences across the ovulatory cycle further clarifies the evolutionary roots of female infidelity. Contrastingly, the assumption of the deficit model of infidelity is that problems in the primary relationship alone account for infidelity of one or both partners. Several social exchange theories are introduced within this section (e.g., equity theory, investment model, interpersonal exchange model of sexual satisfaction). Moreover, the dispositional approach posits that interindividual differences in stable personality traits, like agreeableness of the Big Five or all three traits of the Dark Triad, are responsible for unfaithful behavior. The situational approach assumes situational effects to mainly be the cause of sexual infidelity. Finally, the effects of variables like sex, age, education, and other socio-cultural constructs (like descriptive and injunctive norms) are discussed within the socio-cultural approach. Every approach has its merits. However, regarding one approach separately (which is mostly the case in scientific publications on the topic) always leads to the neglect of others. As a consequence, this review finally introduces the (B)ODD-model of infidelity that integrates all approaches mentioned above, apart from the evolutionary approach, into one unifying framework from a person-situation-interaction perspective. The third essay examines the interplay of several predictors of sexual infidelity within monogamous, heterosexual romantic relationships. Using a three-wave longitudinal design, participants completed online questionnaires measuring personality traits, relationship characteristics, situational factors, and actual sexual infidelity with each time of measurement six months apart. Cross-lagged panel mediation analyses (N=341) revealed a better fit of the (B)ODD-model of infidelity in comparison with the more parsimonious model with direct effects only. However, the more complex associations hypothesized failed to reach statistical significance. Results indicate that subjective situational aspects (opportunity for infidelity) as well as deficient primary relationships both promote sexual infidelity, while personality traits and objective situational aspects that might increase perceived opportunities do not. Post-hoc analyses point in the direction that the effect of objective opportunities for sexual infidelity is mediated by subjective opportunity perceptions.

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Hergert, Jane: Personality, situation, and infidelity in romantic relationships. Hagen 2016. FernUniversität in Hagen.

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