Jealousy: Are We Doomed?

This research topic submitted by Angie Heimann and Sarah Lyon on 5/5/98 .

Chris -- For some reason the graphs didn't copy. They're on the paper in your office, though.


Angie Heimann, Sarah Lyon
May 3, 1997

Jealousy: Are We Doomed?

I. Abstract
We conducted our study on the nature of jealousy: we wanted to come up with possible answers for the question “is it biological, cultural, or a bit of both?” Robert Wright claims that jealousy is biological--so much that we can attribute specific differences of male and female jealousy to biology. We claim that jealous behaviors in human beings are greatly influenced by culture, even if partially attributed to biology.
We researched the topic and found that most authors, from both the “nurture” and “nature” schools, give credit to both sides. We found evidence for “change in jealousy through time” and “differences in cross-cultural jealousy” to be pivotal in formulating our hypothesis, because the notion that jealousy is solely biological would not allow for cultural variance.
To test our claim, we distributed twenty-eight identical surveys to males and females. The surveys included questions designed to rate the individuals on a “jealousy scale” based on how they perceived themselves and their past or present partners. We hoped that our survey results would give us data that would either help us prove or disprove our hypothesis.
We used Statview to help us interpret our data and come up with a P- value and graphs. We focused on gender and degrees of self-jealousy/partner jealousy reported. Our P-value for gender/self jealousy was very high--(.8563), as was our P-value for gender/partner jealousy (.8527), indicating that there was no significant correlation between gender differences and jealousy ratings on our scale.
We could have made our study more accurate had we interviewed more males. We surveyed twenty females but only eight males. From the evidence that we do have, however, our hypothesis seems to hold true--we have found no significant difference in the ways males and females experience and react to jealousy.

II. Introduction
Robert Wright’s jealousy hypothesis claims that:

“male jealousy should focus on sexual infidelity, and males should be quite unforgiving of it; a female, though she’ll hardly applaud a partner’s extracurricular activities, since they consume time and divert resources, should be more concerned with emotional infidelity--the sort of magnetic commitment to another woman that cold eventually lead to a much larger diversion of resources.” (Wright, 66)

We hypothesize that there is no distinct line separating the way males and females experience jealousy. Wright’s statement shows a clear leaning toward the biological origins of jealousy. Originally, we set out to prove or disprove Wright’s claim that there is an essential difference in the way males and females experience jealousy, and a biological difference on which the behavioral discrepancy rests. The idea that females care about male paternal input, and might “put up with” sexual infidelity as long as her mate keeps the goods coming, along with the idea that a male would probably not tolerate sexual infidelity, because he would not want to waste time raising another man’s offspring (thus propagating the genes of someone else,) seems to present human nature in a rather economic light. The biological “difference” claim states that women care mostly about being financially secure, while men don’t wan to waste “precious” time that could be otherwise spent investing in his own genes. Where is the sentimentality in all of this? Are we doomed to forever feeling pangs of jealousy, and reacting in ways that might be detrimental to a healthy relationship? Is Wright’s supposed jealousy “difference” so deeply encoded within us that partners will never truly be able to understand one another or be able to interact “rationally” to overcome it? In asking the question “are we doomed,” we set out to first examine Wright’s claim through the lenses of universality and changes through time.
In our research, we expected to find proof that jealousy is more cultural than biological, partially because of the seemingly small bit of scientific backing offered by Wright in backing his claims, and partially because of our personal experiences and views on the subject. After researching the topic more in depth, however, we found that most authors, of both “nature” and “nurture” opinions, tended to give both sides credit.
We examined the universality of jealousy, starting with the basic assumption that jealousy does, indeed, spread across cultures, and is to some degree a universal human emotion. However, we found that the ways different cultures react to jealousy differ so greatly that it becomes difficult to make the claim that jealousy is wholly biological. The psychologist R.B. Hupka hypothesizes that there is a standardized method by which we can determine weather a culture will be “more jealous” or “less jealous.”
“Specifically, Hupka hypothesized that the loss of a mate is a great threat in societies which (1)endorse the concept of private property, (2)make a mate the only legitimate source of sexual gratification, (3)endow biological offspring with significance for their parents, and (4)confer status with marriage. To illustrate the effect of these factors on jealousy, Hupka contrasts the Toda of India who were not very jealous with the Apaches of North America who were very jealous.” (Mathes, 108-109).

Hupka contrasts the two societies, indeed showing how the Apache society seems to be based on his four pivotal factors, while the Todas seem to almost escape jealousy because of the seeming absence of these factors. However, when he describes the Toda’s lack of sexual restraints, “Should a man want another man’s wife as a lover he would talk to the woman and her husband(s) and if all agreed he would pay an annual fee to the husband(s) for her services,” (Mathes, 109) he neglects to mention what a woman is to do if she desires to be with a man other than her husband. Indeed, this example seems to say that the Toda’s do endorse the notion of private property--otherwise, why is a man paid a fee for the “services” of his wife? Doesn’t the necessity for payment suggest ownership? Despite the somewhat sexist discrepancies here, Hupka’s claim seems compelling at least in one aspect: jealousy is provoked, experienced and expressed differently in different cultures. We explored this notion further, and found more evidence to support it. For instance, the question of “which male ‘should’ feel jealousy” depends on who’s place it is to guard female fidelity /chastity: in Spain and other parts of Europe, it is largely the husband’s duty, while is North Africa and parts of India, it is the brother’s duty. (Van Sommers, 118).
We also explored “jealousy through time,” that is, how social attitudes regarding the legitimacy of jealousy change over time, an how these social attitudes affect the individual’s experience of and reaction to jealousy. We focused on Western culture and explored three major eras: the pre-Victorian period, the Victorian period, and the post-Victorian period. Peter N. Stearns claims that the pre-Victorians felt an ambivalence toward jealousy: it was not completely “good and acceptable” in that it could create violent, hateful effects, but “precisely because individuals were not taught to define themselves through carefully crafted personalities or achievements, jealousy was essential in protecting the reputation and power that served in their stead to give a man a feeling of importance and pride,” (Stearns, 15). In other words, although a “man” (and what about the woman? Does he mean human?) was not to “craft himself” a really distinguished personality, the roots of an individualist culture were beginning to form, allowing a place for jealousy as a “protector” of reputation. Stearns states that Victorian society stressed female passionlessness and male restraint--a stress that would have supposedly made jealousy obsolete. The underlying belief of the Victorian attitude seems to be that jealousy is controllable, and should be controlled as an aftereffect of “proper” behavior fro males, and that females need not control it at all, because of their “inherent” passionlessness. Attitudes toward jealousy in the twentieth century, like Victorian attitudes, stress that jealousy can be controlled, but differ from Victorian attitudes in the reasoning for why it should be controlled. The twentieth century attitude stresses that jealousy should be controlled because it cannot coexist with love, and because it is a “base” emotion that should be overcome in order for a healthy relationship to exist. This brings us to the question, “can jealousy be controlled?” Though attitudes through time change, can an individual socialize herself to be rid of jealousy? Or are we in fact “doomed?”
Our research has led us to make the following claims: Human culture affects the degree of human jealousy: Although biology may have it’s role, the stresses of culture and learning serve to shape people’s reactions strongly. We are not doomed, because we can learn ways to control jealousy by understanding ourselves. Our research has showed us that jealousy changes over time, and shows up differently in different cultures. Our hypothesis seems to directly oppose Wright’s claim of biological difference between human males and females in the ways we experience jealousy. We hypothesize that there is no distinct line separating the way males and females experience jealousy.

III. Methods:
After talking to several males and females about their own experiences and responses to jealousy, we began to formulate our own hypothesis which seemed to directly oppose Wright’s in many ways. We speculated that people experience different degrees of jealousy based on the way that they are taught, directly or indirectly, to experience it. We decided to test our hypothesis by giving a survey to thirty people, males and females, that could help us find any potential differences in the ways males and females respond to jealousy. We handed out the same survey to males and females--the survey was our “constant”, the backdrop that would allow us to see and compare any recognizable differences in the way males and females responded to our questions. Based on our past experiences and interactions with people, we predicted that there would be no significant differences in the way males and females responded to our survey. We predicted that the individual responses would vary greatly, thus supporting our claim that jealousy is, for the most part, a learned response, but that the gender line would not be drawn in such a distinct way that would support Wright’s claim of biological differences in jealousy responses between males and females.
Our original survey went as follows:
-What is your sex? M F
-What is your age? 17-27, 28-up
-What is your sexual orientation? gay straight bi don’t know
-In your experience, do you consider yourself more jealous in a romantic situation than the average person? 1 2 3 4 5
-Do you consider you partner (s) to be more jealous than average? 1 2 3 4 5
-Do you feel jealous when your partner spends time with friends in a non-sexual way? 1 2 3 4 5
-Do you feel more attracted to your partner when you think they might be cheating on you?
-Do you think that jealousy is cultural, biological, or a little bit of both?
-Do you think that jealousy changes throughout different generations? yes no
-Do you think that society plays any effect on human jealousy? yes no
-If you have a pet, has it ever shown signs of jealousy? yes no

We re-wrote the survey because we feared that it would be too difficult to make interpretations about the questions where we asked people to circle a number, one through five, because people could interpret the number scale differently than we did. In order to make certain that we understood the answers better, we wrote out a specific scenario and gave five different options for the subjects to choose from. The options ranged from a quite non-jealous reaction (waving and going on dancing) to a fairly jealous reaction (grabbing partner, leaving the party, and yelling at partner.) We assigned each option a “jealousy rating” number which we did not put on the survey, and in this way we were able to convert the responses into quantifiable data, while still having enough specific information to interpret the data. Although we did not show the “jealousy rating number” beside the reaction options, we did keep them in an order ranging from the “least jealous” to the “most jealous” according to our interpretations, so that people could better understand how we assigned the degrees, and answer more accurately based on their understanding. We also asked the question “do you think you are more jealous than the average person as a prompt question that was optional to answer--we did not ask them to answer it directly, but we wanted it to give them an idea of what we were getting at. We felt that this second, revised survey would allow us to make more accurate speculations about the meaning and significance of our numerical data. (Copy of second survey can be found on next page.)
<IV. Results

The P-values for both gender/self jealousy and gender/partner jealousy were quite high, indicating a high likelihood of chance as a factor for any observable differences in the way males and females experience and react to jealousy.
For gender/self jealousy, our P-value was .8563. This category helped us to analyze any observed differences in the ways males and females rated themselves on our jealousy scale, in which we asked people to choose what they would do in a scenario in which their partner was talking closely to an attractive acquaintance at a party. With a high P-value of .8563, it seems that the males we surveyed did not answer significantly differently than the females we surveyed, which would support our hypothesis, as it would help disprove Wright’s claim of a biological difference between male and female jealousy. The Cell Bar chart for self-jealousy ratings showed that females, on average, rated themselves as being a bit more jealous than males. The female Cell Mean was at about 2.25, while the male Cell Mean was at about 2.

For gender/partner jealousy, the P-value we came up with was also quite high. Our P-value in this category was .8527, indicating that the ways males and females observed their partners’ jealousy did not differ significantly. The Cell Mean for partner jealousy was a bit higher for males, at roughly 2.13, with females at roughly 2.05. This indicates that males rate their partners a bit more jealous than females rate their partners. Because most of the people we surveyed indicated that they were heterosexual, we can assume that, for the most part, the partners indicated in the gender/partner jealousy Cell Mean graph are for people of the opposite sex. This would mean that the women that we surveyed rated themselves a bit more jealous than men (as noted in the previous paragraph, discussing the Cell Mean graph for gender/self-jealousy), and men rate their female partners a bit more jealous than the women rate their male partners. Although the differences in gender self and partner jealousy are rated as being highly induced by chance, this slight pattern in the two Cell Mean graphs seems to indicate females as the more sexually jealous, which would actually disprove Wright’s claim that males should be more sexually jealous. (We marked the “party scenario “ question as our “sexual jealousy question,” because we described the acquaintance as “attractive.”) It would also disprove our claim that there is no recognizable difference in the ways males and females respond to or feel jealousy. Since the P-values for each category are so high, however, and since the indicated differences between males and females on the Cell Mean graphs are quite low, we will stick to our original claim that there is no significant biological difference in the ways males and females experience jealousy.



V. Conclusion
There are several things we would do differently if we were to conduct this study over again. First off, we would interview more males, as we only surveyed eight males but twenty females. By having such a larger pool of female respondents than male, we allowed for much more varied reactions of the females. There is the chance that a male responding in an extreme manner (for instance, circling the last scenario response, indicating he was very highly jealous) would weight the entire category of male responses to give a “more jealous” average. Because of the “larger pool” of female respondents, an extreme answer would not weigh so heavily on the results. We did not take this into consideration until we were entering our data into Statview, however.
We would also make the “self-jealousy “ rating question and the “partner-jealousy” rating question more specific to sexual jealousy. Although we included a “non-sexual” jealousy question on the survey (“do you feel jealous when your partner spends time with friends in a non-sexual way”) to contrast the sexual jealousy question (the fourth question on the survey, which asked what the respondent would do if their partner were talking closely to an attractive acquaintance at a party), we could have made the sexual jealousy question more specific. We could have included more descriptive language, to let the respondent know that the “attractive acquaintance” was not just meant to be a friend, but a possible sexual threat.
A small fraction of our respondents indicated their sexual orientation to be “bisexual.” The fact that these people could have been referring either to males or females when they answered the “partner jealousy” question throws some ambiguity into the results. We could have asked for more specification as to the gender of the partner on the “partner jealousy” question (what would your partner do if you were at a party talking closely to an attractive acquaintance?) to come up with more accurate results
Another matter to consider is that we approached people face to face and asked them to fill out our survey. As our survey gets rather personal, probing into areas that strangers do not usually share with strangers, or friends might not want other friends to know, some of our questions might have come off as threatening. As a result, there is a slight chance that people might have not answered in completely honest ways, because they could have feared that we would read their surveys right after they turned them in, and their anonymity would not be protected. We could have carried an envelope for them to slide the surveys into once they finished, or written a statement at the top insuring that their privacy would be protected--that even we would not purposely try to associate their face with their survey.
For the most part, the people we surveyed were college-age people. We surveyed people from Buzz coffeehouse, and from our classes. As most people hanging out at Buzz coffeehouse are college students, chatting or studying, it seems safe to assume that most of the people we surveyed are students. We did have two respondents 27 or above, but as most people in our survey pool are probably from a similar “college” culture, it is possible that the results are affected by this factor. If this were the case, however, it might actually be further evidence that culture does have a large impact on jealousy experiences.
Although there are many things we would do differently to make our study more accurate, we have found, for the most part, evidence to back our hypothesis. It might be interesting to conduct further studies to see what sort of cultural circumstances might breed larger amounts of jealousy in individuals.

VI. Bibliography


Mathes, Eugene. Jealousy: The Psychological Data. Maryland: University Press of America, 1992.
Salovey, Peter (ed.). The Psychology of Jealousy and Envy. New York: The Guilford Press, 1991.
Schoenfeld, Eugene. Jealousy:Taming the Green Monster. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979.
Stearns, Peter. Jealousy: The Evolution of Emotion in American History. New York: New York University Press, 1989
Van Sommers, Peter. Jealousy: What is it and Who Feels it? London: Penguin Books, 1988
Wright, Robert. The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

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