Research Identifies Infidelity Risk Factors for Newlyweds

A man and a woman sit together on a brown couch. They both look upset.Two studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology explore influences on infidelity. The research found lovers who quickly divert their attention from attractive strangers are less likely to cheat.

Around 40-50% of American marriages end in divorce, and the study’s authors say their research could help people maintain long-term relationships.

How Attention Is Connected to Infidelity

Researchers conducted two longitudinal studies of 233 newly married heterosexual couples. They followed the couples for three and a half years. Researchers asked participants about their sexual behavior, marital satisfaction, and demographic information. Participants also answered whether or not they had engaged in infidelity.

Researchers presented participants with photos of “attractive” people. Attractiveness was measured in part by the subjective evaluations of single people. The study recorded how long participants stared at the photos. It also asked them to rate the attractiveness of the people in the photos.

The researchers found two main factors linked to infidelity. The first was the ability to direct one’s attention away from an alluring stranger. Even a 100-millisecond difference in staring time impacted the likelihood of infidelity. People who were quicker to look away from the “attractive” photos were up to 50% less likely to cheat. Those who looked at the photos for longer periods were more likely to divorce and more likely to have affairs.

The second factor was a tendency to downgrade a potential partner’s attractiveness. Unfaithful participants usually gave photos the same attractiveness ratings as singles did. Participants who were faithful to their partners were more likely to give the photos lower ratings.

Risk Factors for Infidelity

The study identified additional behavioral and demographic risk factors associated with infidelity.

Men were more likely to be unfaithful when:

  • They had more experience with short-term partners prior to marriage.
  • They considered their partners to be less attractive than average.

Women were more likely to be unfaithful when:

  • They had less experience with short-term relationships prior to marriage.
  • They were unattractive (according to the researchers’ standards).

Men and women were both more likely to be unfaithful when:

  • They reported lower marital satisfaction.
  • They had higher sexual satisfaction in their marriages. The study’s authors suggest these people had more positive attitudes about sexuality in general, leading them to seek sex both in and out of marriage.

The study’s authors say mental health practitioners may be able to use this research to help couples make specific changes that protect against infidelity. Increased loyalty may in turn prevent divorce.


  1. Lead us not into temptation: Predictors for infidelity, divorce highlighted in new FSU research. (2018, February 12). Florida State University News. Retrieved from
  2. McNulty, J. K., Meltzer, A. L., Makhanova, A., & Maner, J. K. (2018). Attentional and evaluative biases help people maintain relationships by avoiding infidelity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. doi:10.1037/pspi0000127

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  • Georgette

    February 27th, 2018 at 8:19 AM

    yikes. my partner and me might have to rethink our ‘look but don’t touch’ rule…

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