Between-sex differences in romantic jealousy: substance or spin? A qualitative analysis

Nicky J Fussell, Brian T Stollery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


An influential evolutionary account of romantic jealousy proposes that natural selection shaped a specific sexually-dimorphic psychological mechanism in response to relationship threat. However, this account has faced considerable theoretical and methodological criticism and it remains unclear whether putative sex differences in romantic jealousy actually exist and, if they do, whether they are consistent with its predictions. Given the multidimensional nature of romantic jealousy, the current study employed a qualitative design to examine these issues. We report the results of sixteen semi-structured interviews that were conducted with heterosexual men and women with the purpose of exploring the emotions, cognitions and behaviors that formed their subjective, lived experience in response to relationship threat. Interpretative phenomenological analysis revealed four super-ordinate themes (“threat appraisal”, “emotional episodes”, “sex-specific threat” and “forgive and forget”) and unequivocal sex differences in romantic jealousy consistent with the evolutionary account. Self-esteem, particularly when conceptualized as an index of mate value, emerged as an important proximal mediator for both sexes. However, specific outcomes were dependent upon domains central to the individual’s self concept that were primarily sex-specific. The findings are integrated within the context of existing self-esteem and evolutionary theory and future directions for romantic jealousy research are suggested.
Translated title of the contributionSex differences in romantic jealousy: Substance or spin? A qualitative study
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-172
Number of pages37
JournalEvolutionary Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012

Bibliographical note


Structured keywords

  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Cognitive Science
  • Social Cognition


  • romantic jealousy
  • evolutionary theory
  • sex differences
  • sexual infidelity
  • emotional infidelity
  • self-esteem

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