Los Angeles, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 05/03/2019 -- Jealousy happens in all types of relationships, but what is the science behind why we respond with jealousy to certain situations? What happens inside our bodies and minds in response to things that make us feel jealousy?
This is the topic of Multiamory's podcast Episode 215, The Science of Jealousy.
People experience the emotion of jealousy differently: perhaps a tingling sensation in the hands, a pit in the stomach, loss of appetite, nausea, or a weight on the chest. These physical manifestations of jealousy can be overwhelmingly intense. They represent an acute stress response, more commonly known as the fight-flight-freeze response.
The fear of loss is a primary driver of human behavior. We feel afraid, threatened, and our minds tend to hyper-focus on what could go wrong: an evolutionary survival response that helps us decide the best course of action to avoid the loss.
Co-host Emily Matlack says, "It can be extremely difficult to 'snap out' of this state because the frontal lobes are not engaged in this process. Our inner 'ambassadors', the voices of reason, are overshadowed by the shouting of the primitives', the automatic, visceral response to stress."
The trigger for jealousy - the fear of loss - is a primal response. In a stress situation, we rarely take the time to engage the higher brain and analyze the actual threat of the situation. If a romantic partner is infatuated with someone else, the automatic and instinctual response to loss overrides our rational response, which could be a realization that the relationship isn't worth holding on to.
Co-host Dedeker Winston references a 1992 study published Psychological Science that found that women are more upset by emotional infidelity and men are more upset by sexual infidelity. "By applying evolutionary psychology, we can infer that must be because women are more upset by the idea of someone taking their provider away and men are more upset by someone taking their sexual object away." This has been the dogma for many years, but it paints an incomplete and inaccurate picture of jealousy. The study has been mired in controversy since it was released. It's a little too neat, too convenient, to say that women are more interested in emotions and men are more interested in sex.
Other researchers have since found that both men and women are more upset by emotional infidelity than sexual infidelity.
Jealousy responses can be linked to relationships lasting longer. The behaviors that result from jealousy can be positive, such as a rekindling a desire to work on the relationship. Or, they can take an uglier turn, such as stalking, keeping a partner isolated socially, and verbal and physical abuse.
Both mechanisms serve a purpose in preserving the relationship, but with different outcomes in the happiness and health of the relationship. Studies found that people who were more prone to experiencing jealousy were more likely to be in that same relationship after several years. What the study didn't measure was whether that was a good, healthy relationship; in other words, whether those people were truly happy, or if jealousy made one partner or both partners cling tighter in unhealthy ways just to avoid the fear of loss.
Dedeker says, "Culturally and socially we are conflicted between seeing jealousy as a healthy response, and an unhealthy response. It can go both ways: people who don't like it when their partner feels jealous, or others who equate jealousy with love."
According to a 2017 study published in Frontiers of Psychology, "The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy and Jealousy," jealousy isn't just cultural, it's genetic. We are, in other words, hard-wired to be envious of others who have more than we do; and that self- or guided exploration of the evolutionary origins of envy may complement current therapies in helping us cope with the strong emotions of envy or jealousy.
The study also found that we tend to be more envious of our peers who are doing a little bit better; we have less of an emotional response to comparing ourselves to people who are doing significantly better.
Co-host Emily Matlack says, "Our sense of envy and jealousy correlates to whether we relate to the other person and feel we can, or deserve, to attain what they have."
And, jealousy has little bearing on whether the other person is actually happy. Dedeker says, "We're more likely to feel envy or jealousy of someone who has what we want, regardless of whether they are happy or not. We've seen time and time and time and time again that the traditional hallmarks of success do not necessarily equal life satisfaction or contentment. Look at how many celebrities kill themselves or struggle from depression, yet we feel envious of them but we don't feel envious of someone who has no money but is happy."
Dedeker says, "It's not wrong to feel jealousy. It's part of this whole complicated system that is protecting you. Just put a critical eye on your own feelings and on your own thoughts and that'll serve you."
"Yes, and when you're going through these emotions, understand that they're biological responses to a degree so you can thank your brain and your body and your nervous system for doing things that they were meant to do because again, your body is just trying to make sure that you're safe," Emily responds.
The takeaway is this: accept jealousy as a normal response, and realize we have the ability to choose healthy or unhealthy responses to it. Ultimately we can use the emotion to motivate ourselves to act on things we truly want and let go of things we aren't as invested in.
The podcast goes more in-depth into jealousy and its evolutionary basis. Enjoy the podcast as well as other eye-and-mind-opening podcasts by Multiamory here.
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