Study Shows Even Cheaters' Guilt Is Selfish

reduced_guilt_chipsphoto by optimal_tweezers

Last week we explained how evolutionary psychologists can be so annoying sometimes, what with all their assumptions about modern-day dating and mating behavior based on hunter-gatherer societies. Sure, sometimes those theories are fascinating and even enlightening, but sometimes they’re just plain wrong. Well, here’s another one for the “assume makes an ass of u and me” file: Researchers studying cheating assumed that men would feel guiltier about emotional infidelity while women would feel guiltier about sexual infidelity — because, the theory went, men know that women place a high value on emotional loyalty, and women know that men’s sex drive is supposedly more biologically hard-wired. Sugar and spice and all things nice, etc…

Read the rest of this post on SUNfiltered


  1. I can both agree and disagree with points in this “study”. Unfortunately, I believe therapists attempt to rationalize irrational behavior with rational thoughts and processes. Ultimately, it comes down to a choice that a partner or significant other makes. Regardless of whether or not the “guilty” party feels guilt or shame about an act or acts that they performed for another doesn’t negate the fact that the incident occurred. The one who was “wronged” is the “victim” in these circumstances regardless of whether or not the “guilty” party claims shame or other emotions or feelings, or even displays these emotions, they failed to communicate on many levels with their significant other their needs or desires or what have you. I think it’s time that EVERYONE, not just therapists or cheaters, claim responsibility for their wrong doings and stop blaming circumstance or any other common “scapegoat” on personal choice.

  2. Actually, it does make sense, and it doesn’t make it selfish. Self-centered perhaps, but not selfish. What it seems the researchers have found is just simply the difference between sympathy and empathy. Cheaters who do feel guilt—because unfortunately not all of them do—may be trying to empathize with their partner. This is to say that they’re attempting to put themselves in the shoes of the wronged party. To do this they examine how they would feel if their partner had cheated on them. Thus, not surprisingly, they would feel worse if they’re partner cheated on them in the manner that would hurt them (the cheater) the most, and so would attribute the most negative feelings to that form of cheating. And since they find more negative emotions related to that type of cheating, they would feel more guilt associated with that form of cheating, because, obviously, it feels to the cheater to be the greater form of betrayal. Also, it’s difficult for someone to feel a greater guilt about a situation that they can’t fully relate to as opposed to one they can fully understand. For example asking many men to feel guilty about emotional cheating can be really difficult since they may not even understand how it’s considered cheating in the first place (not that I think it excuses their actions). Guilt is a very personal emotion and is drawn primarily on one’s own experiences and sense of empathy. So we really shouldn’t be surprised that it’s self-centered.

  3. Evolutionary psych should come with a disclaimer, like TV psychics: “for entertainment purposes only”.

  4. Good point (in the last sentence), Dave, we fixed that. Thanks! The other point’s a good one, too… perhaps the cold-hearted distant cheaters are the ones most likely to intellectualize their smidgen of guilt and feel worse about A than B.

  5. I kinda have to disagree. I think their guilt IS empathetic; it’s just that they feel worse about the type of cheating where they have a visceral sense of the depth of their betrayal. Trying to exert intellectual control over your emotions – “I ought to feel worse about A than B” – is tricky. The study didn’t say they weren’t feeling bad about the other form of cheating, just less so. Oh, and also, researchers assume things, science doesn’t.

Comments are closed.