Online Jealousy is Different and the Same

In the beginning, there was AOL Instant Messenger.

That’s how I remember talking to my crushes in high school. In college, Google Chat took on that role. Now there’s Facebook messenger, the Instagram DMs, OKCupid, Tinder… the list goes on and on. As the internet has expanded, so have the ways we can talk to cuties online.

And, for some of us, every new method represents another opportunity to be jealous.Online Jealousy pbs rewire

A new study of love in the digital age has shown that, although dating may be different today because of online communication, the basics have remained the same: The jealousy we feel about our partners’ online behavior is the same as the jealousy we feel about real-life behavior.

Different loyalty priorities for men and women

Researchers at Cardiff Metropolitan University in the U.K. studied how jealousy manifests when people find sketchy messages on their partners’ social accounts, ones that suggest their partner is cheating. They found that jealous behavior hasn’t changed in our digital age, and that men’s and women’s jealousy is triggered by different factors.

In the study, male and female undergraduate students were shown fake Facebook messages that “revealed” that their partners were cheating, either emotionally or sexually. The messages said things like “You must be my soulmate! Feel so bloody connected to you, even though we haven’t slept together,” to indicate emotional infidelity, and “You must be the best one-night stand I’ve ever had. Last night was out of this world, sexy bum!” to indicate sexual infidelity (man, I love Britishisms so much).

These messages appeared to be sent either by the participant’s partner, or from the imaginary sideperson. The participants then rated how distressed they would be if they had come across these Facebook messages while snooping through their partner’s account in real life.

In general, men were more distressed by the messages that suggested their partners were having sex with someone else. Women were generally more distressed by the idea of their partners cheating emotionally. (The women were actually more upset by the whole thought experiment in general.)

They were also more upset by the other person contacting their partners, rather than the other way around. Men were more upset at the idea of their partners sending a sneaky message to another person, rather than receiving one from someone else.

Learning about jealousy to combat domestic violence

In the researchers’ opinion, figuring out how jealousy plays out today is vital for continued work against relationship violence. People who abuse their partners often claim to do it out of jealousy because of real or imagined cheating. According to University of Texas psychology professor David M. Buss, jealousy is the leading cause of spousal murder across the globe.

Online Jealousy pbs rewireAnd social media might be making jealousy worse.

“It has been suggested that social networking sites such as Facebook can actively intensify pre-disposed jealous impulses in romantic relationships and create new suspicions,” researchers Michael J. Dunn and Gemma Billett wrote in their paper.

“Applying an evolutionary perspective to understanding the manifestation of jealous behavior and how infidelity-related anger can trigger partner dissolution and domestic abuse may help counteract inevitable rises in (those) behaviors in an age where… extra-marital relationships are facilitated by modern forms of media technology.”

Prone to jealousy? Here’s the case for staying away from your partner’s social media.

Katie Moritz

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores and pho. Reach her via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @katecmoritz.