Infidelity is frowned upon by many societies because it breaks the promise people make to remain faithful to their partners (Gibson, Thompson & O’Sullivan 2016). Moller and Vossler (2015) define it as a breach of a social contract between two or more partners pertaining to sexual or emotional exclusivity. Other researchers simply refer to it as a violation of a set of rules or norms regarding relationships (Russell, Baker & McNulty 2013; Little et al. 2014; McNulty & Widman 2014).
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Since fidelity and faithfulness are subjective issues, people have different interpretations of what constitutes a faithful relationship. However, of particular interest to this review is the effects of generational differences on perceptions of love and relationships because changing economic, social, and cultural values, across multiple generational cohorts, have permeated how societies view marriages and social unions. Despite the existence of these changes, many societies still perceive infidelity as an undesirable behaviour. In line with this observation, most researchers have tried to predict the occurrence of infidelity by using psychology theories and personality types (Gravningen et al. 2017).
For example, a study conducted by McTernan, Love and Rettinger (2014) explored 17 types of transgressive behaviours and their association with personality traits. The main types of personality traits examined in the study were impulsivity, empathetic perspective taking, guilt, and shame (McTernan, Love & Rettinger 2014). The researchers also included social desirability as a control variable. Using a confirmatory factor analysis, McTernan, Love and Rettinger (2014) identified five main types of cheating – competitive cheating, breaking a social contract, relationship cheating, self-cheating, and school cheating.
At the same time, using a structural equation model, they found that impulsivity and sensation seeking were associated with high incidences of transgressive behaviours or infidelity (McTernan, Love & Rettinger 2014). The empathetic perspective taking was also associated with impulsivity (McTernan, Love & Rettinger 2014).
In a British study, authored by Boertien and Mortelmans (2018), an effort was made to understand the relationship between personality types and divorce. The researchers established that personality types and divorce shared a positive relationship (Boertien & Mortelmans 2018). The hypotheses investigated in the study were based on the social exchange and crisis theories. Boertien and Mortelmans (2018) also pointed out that high divorce rates have become less characteristic of people who behave unconventionally or score highly in “openness to experience.” High divorce rates were also associated with people who had low scores in conscientious levels (Boertien & Mortelmans 2018).
A different British study, authored by Boertien, von Scheve and Park (2017), sought to find out whether low education levels among low-income people supported personality types that promote infidelity. The study was empirical in nature and involved an analysis of infidelity rates among married couples in Britain. Using the British Household Panel survey, the researchers sampled the views of 2,665 people and assessed their personalities using the big-five scale (Boertien, von Scheve & Park 2017).
Broadly, the researchers pointed out that personality types differed across educational groups and rates of cheating behaviours were unevenly distributed across different levels of education (Boertien, von Scheve & Park 2017). Based on these findings, the authors disputed the fact that low education levels were associated with high rates of marital instability (Boertien, von Scheve & Park 2017).
A study conducted by Jia, Ing and Lee (2016) investigated the relationship between personality factors and two types of infidelity – online and sexual. The researchers explained that sexual infidelity refers to one partner having a physical sexual relationship with another person, while online infidelity refers to the existence of both physical and emotional intimacy (Jia, Ing & Lee 2016).
The study was a desk research and involved a review of several journals, which assessed personality types using the Dark Triad Traits, The Big Five Factors and HEXACO. 51 (Jia, Ing & Lee 2016). Jia, Ing and Lee (2016) found that there was a relationship between personality and infidelity. They also predicted that people who scored highly in the dark triads of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy were more likely to be unfaithful to their partners compared to those who did not rate highly on these scales (Jia, Ing & Lee 2016).
When the same relationship was assessed, relative to the personality types identified through the big five factors (extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience), it was established that people who had high scores in conscientiousness had a lower probability of being unfaithful to their partners (Jia, Ing & Lee 2016). Comparatively, extraversion and agreeableness were associated with high a high probability of infidelity (Jia, Ing & Lee 2016). Lastly, neuroticism and openness to experience registered mixed results (Jia, Ing & Lee 2016). This study also relied on the evolutionary theory to explain infidelity. It suggests that women are more likely to be affected by emotional infidelity, while men are likely to be affected by sexual infidelity (Jia, Ing & Lee 2016).
In another study, authored by Altgelt et al. (2018), the relationship between personality types and infidelity was also explored. However, as opposed to the study by Jia, Ing and Lee (2016), which only investigated the personality of the cheater, the research authored by Altgelt et al. (2018) examined the effects of the personalities of the partner who was unfaithful and his/her “cheating companion.” It was established that women who rated high in extroversion and men who rated high in narcissism were likely to be unfaithful (Altgelt et al. 2018). However, the researchers found that this relationship was insignificant when controlled for satisfaction in marriage (Altgelt et al. 2018). Overall, the study suggested that predicting self-oriented behaviours, such as cheating, required a proper understanding of the personality types of both partners (Altgelt et al. 2018). Based on this observation, the researchers proposed the need to adopt a dyadic approach to examining infidelity in relationships.
Generally, the findings depicted in this study show that several researchers have investigated the relationship between personality and infidelity rates. Notably, the big-five scale of personality assessment has emerged as the most preferred scale for identifying personality traits, while extroversion sufficed as the major personality trait with the highest likelihood of cheating. Research studies authored by van Leeuwen and Mace (2016), and McNulty and Widman (2014) also support this observation because they suggested that extroversion shared a positive relationship with infidelity.
The research gap that emerges from this review is premised on the fact that no study has examined the relationship between personality types and infidelity among Millennials. This is a significant gap in the literature because Millennials have different attitudes towards marriage and fidelity, compared to older generations (Norona et al. 2015; Weiser & Weigel 2017). This view is supported by van Hooff (2017) who says that the dominant mono-normative attitudes towards fidelity are challenged by a rising incidence of nonmonogamy in the society.
He attributes the increased “hostility” towards monogamy in present-day society to the “specialness” of sex and the central role that trust plays in marital unions (van Hooff 2017). Based on the changing attitudes towards fidelity by younger generations, it will be interesting to find out if the relationship between personality traits and infidelity remain as reported (subject to the social and cultural differences that Millennials hold towards marriage and fidelity, compared to older generations). The proposed research question that should guide the investigation appears below.
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Russell, VM, Baker, LR & McNulty, JK 2013, ‘Attachment insecurity and infidelity in marriage: do studies of dating relationships really inform us about marriage’, Journal of Family Psychology, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 242-251.
van Hooff, J 2017, ‘An everyday affair: deciphering the sociological significance of women’s attitudes towards infidelity’, The Sociological Review, vol. 65, no. 4, pp. 850-864.
van Leeuwen, AJ & Mace, R 2016, ‘Life history factors, personality and the social clustering of sexual experience in adolescents’, Royal Society Open Science, vol. 3, no. 10, pp. 1-13.
Weiser, DA & Weigel, DJ 2017, ‘Exploring intergenerational patterns of infidelity’, Journal of the International Association for Relationship Research, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 933-952.