Jealousy Photo courtesy of Good TherapyOpens in new window

Jealousy is the feelings, thoughts, and behaviours that occur when an individual perceives that a rival threatens his romantic relationship. The emotions involved in jealousy are anger, fear, and hurt (Guerrero & Andersen, 1998).

Scholars have viewed jealousy from diverse perspectives, including attachment theoryOpens in new window and evolutionary theoryOpens in new window. Scholars from both theoretical viewpoints have attempted to explain how jealousy is functional.

According to attachment theory, adult romantic relationships involve attachment that is highly similar to the attachment of an infant and her caretaker (Sharpsteen, 1999).

Young infants become attached to a single person, often the mother. The attachment is expressed in behavior, meaning that the infant desires and makes efforts to maintain close proximity to the attachment figure.

Additionally, attachment is an emotional bond. During particular development periods, the infant will scream and cry when separated from the mother; the crying is not only an emotional expression but also an attempt to encourage the mother to return.

Scholars studying jealousy make note that infant behavior surrounding the experiences of separating from and reuniting with mother meets the description of jealousy. Specifically, they show fearOpens in new window when the mother leaves, may show angerOpens in new window when she returns (perhaps hitting Mom or having a mini temper tantrumOpens in new window), and demonstrate sadness/hurtOpens in new window if the separation is prolonged.

According to the attachment perspective on jealousy, adults become attached to other adults, and jealousy feelings and behaviors may be the adult counterpart of the feelings and behaviors that an infant has when threatened by separation from her mother.

The adult expressions of fear, anger, and sadness may be designed to maintain the physical and psychological attachment between two individuals, just as these behaviors function the same way in the infant-mother attachment bond.

Evolutionary psychologists have a somewhat different perspective on the function of jealousy.

According to Buss (2000), jealousy evolved to motivate people to act in ways that are likely to protect their close relationships.

Close relationships are advantageous from an evolutionary perspective because they enhance the survival of people’s offspring, thus ensuring survival of their genetic material.

Buss argues that early humans who reacted strongly to potential romantic rivals by vigilantly scanning for potential threats, discouraging rivals, and keeping their mates happy and satisfied were more likely to keep their relationships and reproduce more than people who were apathetic when a potential rival came along.

Therefore jealousy is currently a part of our genetic makeup because it led to a reproductive advantage in the past. Jealousy scholars have reviewed research on a wide variety of topics related to jealousy such as individual characteristics that make one prone to jealousy, sex differences in jealousy, various events and circumstances that tend to evoke jealousy, and how to cope with jealousy (e.g., Miller, Perlman, & Brehn, 2007; Pines, 1998).

See also:
  1. Buss, D.M. (2000). The dangerous passion: Why jealousy is as necessary as love and sex. New York: Free Press.
  2. Pines, A.M. (1998). Romantic jealousy: Causes, symptoms, cures. New York: Routledge.
  3. Sharpsteen, D.J. (1999). Jealousy. In D. Levinson, J.J. Ponzetti, & P.F. Jorgensen (Eds.), Encylopedia of human emotions. (2nd ed., pp. 413 – 418). New York: Macmillan Reference USA.