Psychology of Emotion (Psyc3380) class blog posts

Students from the fall 2016 class of Psyc3380 will be posting recent research findings of general interest on the topic of emotion.

Jealousy and Cell Phone Usage in the Modern World

by: Shayla W. Piccini, Thompson Rivers University

In modern times, technology continues to become increasingly popular, especially with the use of cell phones. Around 82% of adults around the world own a cell phone, allowing us to easily communicate with others and form relationships; however, they also have the ability to aid in the destruction of relationships. Studies on infidelity and cell phone usage have found that phones can expedite the process of cheating. This darker side of cell phone usage reveals the jealousy in human nature.

Some psychologists use a Darwinian approach to examine this issue, arguing that jealousy could have been adaptive in ancient times by helping to ward off competition between mates. It can also help to ensure that one’s resources aren’t wasted trying to reproduce with an unfaithful mate. Studies have found that men seem to be more distressed by evidence of sexual infidelity, while females are more distressed by evidence of emotional infidelity. With all of this in mind, Michael Dunn and Holly Mclean set out to examine cell phone usage through this perspective. They looked at the difference between males’ and females’ focus on emotional versus sexual texts that revealed an imagined partner was cheating.

To test their theory, Dunn and Mclean recruited 42 single, heterosexual university students (20 males and 22 females). Participants were asked to imagine that they were currently in a relationship and were then shown two emotionally explicit texts and two sexually explicit texts. For example, one of the emotional text messages read “I think I’m falling in love with you!” and one of the sexually explicit texts read “I enjoyed last night, still up for another shag next week?”. While participants viewed the texts, they wore a device which tracked their eye movement, letting the researchers know how long they spent looking at each text. The results showed that females focused on both the sexual and emotional texts for equal amounts of time, while males focused on the sexual texts more than females did.

Overall, females spent more time than males looking at the emotional texts and males spent more time than females looking at the sexual texts. People tend to focus more on things that are important to them, so these results indicate that emotional infidelity matters more to females and sexual infidelity matters more to males. These results are important because they provide insight into how an evolutionary perspective of jealousy can be linked to the modern world through cell phone usage. Future studies could look at possible factors such as sexual habits, sexual orientation, and age. Sexual habits could influence future results, as some people who are in open relationships or tend to be more promiscuous may find these texts to be of less importance. While people in same sex relationships may focus on both types of texts equally or to a lesser extent depending on their relationship. Finally, older participants may focus more or less on either the sexual or emotional texts based on their own life experiences.


Dunn, M., & Mclean, H. (2015). Jealousy-induced sex differences in eye gaze directed at either emotional- or sexual infidelity-related mobile phone messages. Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, 18 (1), 37-40. doi:10.1089/cyber.2014.0351