October 29, 2008
Men Detect Infidelities Better Than Women

He's going to figure out your cheating heart.

UNFAITHFUL women beware. Chances are your male partner is on your case. In fact, he is likely to suspect infidelities even when you have kept to the straight and narrow. The flip side is that to counter this constant vigilance, women may be better than men at concealing illicit liaisons.

Paul Andrews at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and colleagues gave 203 young heterosexual couples confidential questionnaires asking them whether they had ever strayed, and whether they suspected or knew their partner had strayed. In this, 29 per cent of men said they had cheated, compared with 18.5 per cent of women.

The men were better than women at judging fidelity. "Eighty per cent of women's inferences about fidelity or infidelity were correct, but men were even better, accurate 94 per cent of the time," says Andrews. They were also more likely to catch out a cheating partner, detecting 75 per cent of the reported infidelities compared with 41 per cent discovered by women (Human Nature, vol 19, p 347). However, men were also more likely to suspect infidelity when there was none.

Andrews says this makes evolutionary sense because unlike women, men can never be certain a baby is theirs. "Men have far more at stake," he says. "When a female partner is unfaithful, a man may himself lose the opportunity to reproduce, and find himself investing his resources in raising the offspring of another man."

The next step in this evolutionary arms race? People will genetically test their prospective partners in order to avoid those who have genes that make them more likely to stray. Though men with high status yet with genetic variants that cause a cheating heart will still be able to get women who would rather have a high status cheating mate than a low status faithful mate.

Also, cheaters will look for genetic profiles of prospective mates who either have genetically caused weaknesses in ability to detect cheating or who have genetic profiles that suggest a willingness to look the other way. So maybe the net result will be more happiness and more cheating.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 October 29 09:13 PM  Brain Sexuality

Vince said at October 29, 2008 9:48 PM:

"The next step in this evolutionary arms race? People will genetically test their prospective partners in order to avoid those who have genes that make them more likely to stray."

Ridiculous. I'm sorry Randall, but I have to shoot you straight here. You really need to get out of this prediction business. You seem to turn every single little genetic discovery into a bad science fiction book. Do you honestly expect lovers to make the rational decision to not date someone simply because of a genetic predisposition?

Okay, let's take a more plausible scenario. Genetic sequencing becomes so cheap that we embed them into our cell phones. When you meet someone, they exchange DNA samples and have fun conversations like, "Hey check it out, if we had babies they'd look like Tom Cruise!" Women might gather DNA samples of the men that they're interested in and compare notes. Men might do the same. It'll all be great fun and good for a few bar games.

All of it will be a complete and utter sham. Nature will take over like it always does and do its work. Men will pick the girls with the biggest tits, (whoever they're programmed to be attracted to) and women will pretend to look and make the right choice and end up picking the bad boy anyway, because no amount of knowledge can get us to ignore the mating ritual. Nothing will change, life will go on. Just because we might have the tools to make terrifying changes to our genetic makeup doesn't mean the world will immediately rush out and do so.

Now what will happen is somebody is going to go out there and invent something that really changes the rules. This will have nothing to do with biology and everything to do with communication. This will allow scientists working for the good of mankind to really apply design methodology to social change. With all the advances increasing the amount of chaos in the world, the same advances give us tools to manage that chaos. With junk email came spam filters. The end result is not a Brave New World, it's the most interesting world we could ever create. Humans crave novelty. Technology will give us endless novelty.

Finnsense said at October 29, 2008 10:20 PM:

Are men better are detecting infidelity or are women worse at hiding it. In my experience, women experience more guilt when they are unfaithful (especially if they were drunk), and this is likely to show.

FWIW I think Randall has a point about people choosing faithful people - but only for long-term relationships.

monkey think, monkey write said at October 31, 2008 1:41 PM:

> Now what will happen is somebody is
> going to go out there and invent
> something that really changes the rules.

Like cheap, painless and quick (and possibly discreet) paternity tests. Men being able to *be* sure that the child is theirs seems like a rule changer to me.

Bob Badour said at November 1, 2008 10:04 AM:

The real rule changer will be a male oral contraceptive that doesn't turn Mr. Happy into Mr. Flappy.

billy buzz said at November 1, 2008 10:38 AM:

"People will genetically test their prospective partners in order to avoid those who have genes that make them more likely to stray."

Cheating can often be a desirable mate characteristic. If someone cheats on you instead of dumps you, then they must still feel you are a valuable part of their life. But if someone just flat breaks up with you for someone else, then that means you were a completely expendable, if not detrimental, part of their life.

The guy with the cheating girlfriend still gets to have sex, but the very same girlfriend without the cheating gene would probably just dump him as the alternate solution, leaving him without sex.

Randall Parker said at November 2, 2008 10:01 AM:


I do not expect every person to use genetic testing to choose a faithful partner. First off, not everyone is looking for faithfulness. Second, some will trade off between faithfulness and other qualities. A lot of women tolerate unfaithful husbands who bring home the bacon and otherwise treat them and the kids well. Look at Hillary Clinton tolerating Bill. Some women will do anything to be with an alpha.

However, some more cautious and conservative men and women who sense they'll feel a lot of pain from infidelity will test prospective mates.

Men picking women with big tits: Well, with the ability to genetically engineer some breast fat cells I expect a lot more women will become well endowed. Physical appearance will continue to be a differentiator. But genetic test results will become a differentiator in some cases too.

Discoveries and science fiction: But these discoveries really are going to bring about a science fiction future. Whether it will be good or bad on net is hard to tell.

Bob Badour said at November 4, 2008 3:06 PM:

Thinking about this a little more, some women will look specifically for a partner who cheats relying on cheating as future grounds for divorce plus support payments.

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