Who’s on Top? The personality of women who commit infidelity is different.
Raj Persaud and Adrian Furnham
The allegations at the ‘phone-hacking’ trial that two editors of national newspapers conducted a secret affair for six years, coincides with the publication of new psychological research, suggesting links between ambition, success and infidelity.
John Prescott’s affair with Tracey Temple, his diary secretary, Robin Cook’s infidelity, Kimberly Quinn’s affair with David Blunkett which began while she was publisher of The Spectator magazine, John Major’s and Bill Clinton’s infidelities, amongst many others, indicate that despite the risks involved of high profile figures indulging in sexual indiscretions, it appears common.
The very latest study on how the prevalence of cheating is changing – entitled ‘New facts on infidelity’ conducted by Effrosyni Adamopoulou from the Bank of Italy, Research Department, used data from the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in the USA, a nationally representative sample of adolescents followed up to 2008, when the sample was aged 24–34. The study published in the academic journal ‘Economics Letters’, concludes that in the US right now, young men and women are equally likely to be unfaithful, and 21.5% of young men and women have cheated on their current partner at least once.
The study also found that infidelity in all types of relationships significantly peaks during summer. Effrosyni Adamopoulou argues this might be when most people travel, which could facilitate cheating for various reasons.
But while being unfaithful might not be uncommon, shouldn’t the high-profile be more faithful because of the greater consequences, and possibly higher chances of being caught?
Previous psychological research has established that many (particularly women) tend to be attracted to those whose personalities combine high levels of dominance and antisocial tendencies.
But now new research about to be published by psychologists at the University of Texas, El Paso, and Texas Tech University, in the USA, has uncovered that, for women, being psychopathic and Machiavellian were unique predictors of inﬁdelity, while only being psychopathic, predicted inﬁdelity among men.
Those who score high on Machiavellianism deploy cunning and deceit in order to gain what they want from others. The term is named after Italian renaissance diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli, who explained the principles of how to advance in life whether you are a dictator, politician, or just want to win friends and influence people.
The authors argue Machiavellianism is a more strategic aspect of character. Such scheming involves committing malevolent acts in a calculated way that maximizes selﬁsh beneﬁts.
Machiavellianism in your personality predicted inﬁdelity among women, and not men, possibly because women are likely to suffer greater consequences over sexual affairs. For example, relationships are more likely to end as a result of a woman’s physical unfaithfulness. Machiavellian women may believe they are able to successfully negotiate inﬁdelity with fewer consequences.
Secrecy and forethought are characteristics consistent with the Machiavellian disposition. Because of their strategic planning, so called ‘High Machs’ deploy impulse control and the calculating nature necessary to deceive, while reducing the likelihood of consequences. Machiavellians therefore may commit adultery in a way that doesn’t undermine primary relationships.
The study is the first to investigate the link between infidelity and the so-called ‘Dark Triad’ of personality – lacking empathy, being manipulative and self-obsessed (Psychopathy, Machiavellianism and Narcissism). The ‘Dark Triad’ has been found to be strongly associated with climbing the greasy pole at work while exploiting other staff, stealing and generally abusing an organisation to pursue own ends.
Psychologists, Daniel Jones and Dana Weiser, investigated 884 individuals representing the general population; infidelity rates in this sample were found to be 24% for men and 20% for women.
If Machiavellians are unfaithful, it is likely to be for strategic reasons not impulsive ones. For example, among women, one reason may be the cultivation of good genes from an interloping man but better resources from the primary investing partner (‘‘gene capturing’’).
Machiavellians are long-term oriented – they will only steal when there is little chance of getting caught, resisting cheating when short-term goals undermine long-term investments. Machiavellians are prone to inﬁdelity, but exercise caution in how they execute affairs. In sum, Machiavellians manage partners and affairs in ways that are maximally advantageous to their selﬁsh goals.
By contrast, those high in psychopathy are aggressive, steal even when the payoff is small and risk is large, so cheat in impulsive ways. As psychopaths are indiscriminately unfaithful, they are more likely to get caught.
Narcissists suffer from a grandiose view of themselves as beautiful, talented and wonderful people, who are therefore entitled to more than they are getting. Narcissism is associated with relationship dissatisfaction which is predictive of inﬁdelity, possibly because partners of narcissists never live up to expectations, leading narcissists to seek alternatives. Furthermore, narcissists tend to be impulsive in an over-conﬁdent way.
In the current study, entitled ‘Differential inﬁdelity patterns among the Dark Triad’, Machiavellians did not ruin their relationship as a result of the inﬁdelity, whereas psychopaths did.
Machiavellians don’t act impulsively, so they can delay gratiﬁcation, plan alibis, and hide their cheating in ways that make their inﬁdelity difﬁcult to detect. In addition, being manipulative, they may be able to convincingly ‘‘confess,’’ ‘‘apologize,’’ or ‘‘show remorse’’ in ways that repair a primary relationship after cheating, despite not actually feeling any genuine regret.
Finally, Machiavellians may see the beneﬁt to their primary partner (e.g., status, resources) and be motivated to stay in that stable relationship. This motivation would stand in stark contrast to erratic psychopaths (who move from relationship to relationship anyway) or over-conﬁdent narcissists (who arrogantly assume they will ﬁnd someone better).
This new study, published in the academic journal ‘Personality and Individual Differences’ found Machiavellianism did not predict dissolution of relationships after the inﬁdelity, whereas psychopathy did. Machiavellians are likely to maintain a relationship irrespective of inﬁdelity, possibly due to their more cautious and ﬂexible nature. This scheming helps Machiavellians avoid detection.
But even when caught, Machiavellians smooth over conﬂicts – they tend to thrive when tensions are hot, and emotions are strong.
In a sense it might even be better to be cheated on by a person scoring high on Psychopathy compared with Machiavellianism. It could appear from this new research – at least you are more likely to know where you and your relationship stands with a psychopath.