Sex differences in jealousy: a contribution from attachment theory

Psychol Sci. 2010 Feb;21(2):168-73. doi: 10.1177/0956797609357708. Epub 2009 Dec 22.


Studies have found that more men than women endorse sexual infidelity as more distressing than emotional infidelity, whereas more women than men endorse emotional infidelity as more distressing than sexual infidelity. Some evolutionary psychologists have proposed that this sex difference can be best conceptualized as reflecting evolution-based differences in parental investment that produce a need for paternity certainty among men and a need for male investment in offspring among women. Nonetheless, a conspicuous subset of men report emotional infidelity as more distressing than sexual infidelity. Current theorizing explains between-sex differences but not within-sex differences. We hypothesized that attachment-style differences may help to explain both between- and within-sex differences in jealousy. As hypothesized, dismissing avoidant participants reported more jealousy regarding sexual than emotional infidelity (64.8%), and secure participants, including secure men, reported more jealousy regarding emotional than sexual infidelity (77.3%), chi(2)(3, N = 411) = 45.03, p < .001. A series of sequential logistic regression analyses indicated significant moderation of the sex-jealousy relationship by attachment style. Implications of an attachment perspective are discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biological Evolution
  • Emotions
  • Extramarital Relations
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Jealousy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Object Attachment*
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Social Values
  • Young Adult