Why do some people cheat? The science of infidelity

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Credit: Free Press Journal
Credit: Free Press Journal

There are many reasons why people cheat, and the patterns are more complex than common stereotypes suggest. A fascinating new study sheds some light on these motivations.

The investigation included 495 people (87.9 percent of whom identified as heterosexual), who were recruited through a participant pool at a large U.S. university and through Reddit message boards with relationship themes. The participants admitted to cheating in their relationship and answered the question at the root of the mystery: Why did you do it? An analysis revealed eight key reasons: anger, self-esteem, lack of love, low commitment, need for variety, neglect, sexual desire, and situation or circumstance. These motivations not only influenced why people cheated but how long they did so, their sexual enjoyment, their emotional investment in the affair and whether their primary relationship ended as a result.

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So is an affair really a relationship killer? Ultimately, the fate of the participants’ primary relationship depended less on the act itself and more on what motivated it. Cheating was more likely to end a relationship when it arose from anger, lack of love, low commitment or neglect. And it was less likely to do so when the infidelity was circumstantial. Surprisingly, only one in five (20.4 percent) of relationships ended because of the affair.

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