Anyone who has loved, and maybe anyone who has ever formed an emotional bond with another human, has felt the emotion of jealousy. Characterised as the "green-eyed monster", jealousy is a frequently destructive emotion that nevertheless plays a central role in the psychology of love. This article looks at what jealousy is, the differences in its expression, and how sexual selection caused it to become a part of the mosaic of emotions that comprise the human experience.
What is jealousy?
When a person is described as feeling "jealous", they are feeling a combination of emotions such as insecurity, anger and fear. This combination arises in connection with the perceived possibility of a loss of an emotional connection with another human. Although jealousy is not limited to expression in the romantic sphere (a child's resentment at their parent's giving attention to a newborn sibling is a form of jealousy), we will only examine jealousy as it relates to the psychology of love.
A person typically feels jealous when someone who they have a romantic interest in gives attention to a sexual rival. Jealousy is rooted in the feat that their romantic interest will fall in love with another person. Unfortunately, this emotion often causes a person to constantly monitor the whereabouts and attitudes of their love interest, to interrogate them regarding how they feel about other people, to demand assurances and promises of eternal love, and to become suspicious and paranoid. Some people have suggested that love is not true love if there is no jealousy component involved; the irony of this is that the behaviours caused by jealousy often force lovers apart, mostly because having a jealous lover can make a person feel imprisoned.
Why does jealousy exist?
The Selfish Gene Theory gives a number of clues as to why the emotion of jealousy exists and how it could have arisen. If you consider that the body and the emotions felt by the human mind exist to ensure the replication of the genes that code for them, these genes would have evolved to detect threats to their propagation. One of the foremost threats is naturally of a potential sexual partner choosing to reproduce with another person, thereby denying someone else's genes the opportunity.
From an evolutionary perspective, feeling jealousy might make it more likely that a person ensures that their genes are passed on and that their offspring survive to the next generation, because that person will seek to drive away threats from sexual competitors. Given that jealousy makes it more likely that the person feeling it will reproduce, their genes will replicate more frequently, and therefore the genes that code for a trait such as jealous behaviour will become more common in the next generation.
Gender differences in jealousy
To understand the gender differences in jealousy, it is necessary to understand the Parental Investment Model. To summarise, the objective of the male sexual desire is to inseminate women; the objective of the female sexual desire is to become inseminated by men whose genes and behaviour make their offspring more likely to survive.
For men with female sexual partners, therefore, the biggest risk is that another man will get the female pregnant. For women with male sexual partners, the biggest risk is that another woman will attract the resources of the male and leave the former women's offspring without resources and protection. This difference is expressed by the different circumstances under which jealousy arises: men are more likely to feel jealousy at the possibility of sexual infidelity on the part of the female, whereas women are more likely to feel jealousy at the possibility of the male transferring his affection to another woman.
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