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Summary and Review of Ch. 4 and 5 from "The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love and Sex", by David Buss



By Courtney Ball and Megan Cargile


The Othello Syndrome



          This chapter opens with a few cases of one mate suspecting the other mate of infidelity, and the patient that made these accusations was diagnosed as being pathologically jealous.  All of the spouses that suspected their mates of infidelity were correct, but as the author says, that is not always the case.  Some people really are delusional.  This leads into the Error Management Theory.

          The Error Management Theory explains why men and women sometimes have “delusions” that their partner is being unfaithful when they are actually loyal.  It also explains why men and women are highly sensitive to signs of betrayal, and why men and women train their eyes on their rivals who flirt with their partners in social settings.  An example of EMT that the author gives is the two possible states of reality while walking through the woods and hearing noises under some leaves in the path in front of the person.  There is either a dangerous snake in the path or there is not.  Given this information, the person could either think there is a snake in the path and avoid it, or think that there is not a snake in the path and continue walking along it.  There is a cost to each of these circumstances.  If there really was no snake, then the person took more time along the path in order to avoid it.  The other cost is that if there was a snake and the person didn’t think there was one, it could cost the person their life if they did not detect it.  The second cost has greater consequences because a person’s life could end.  In response to this, Buss states, “As a result, modern humans have descended from a line of ancestors whose inferences about the uncertain world erred in the direction of believing that snakes existed more than they do.”  These are known as “adaptive errors.”

          Evolution by selection will favor the inference that results in the less costly error in order to avoid the more costly error, according to EMT.  The snake example is simply a metaphor to what takes place in the real world with couples.  One can either think that their partner is having an affair and be wrong, or the person can think that their mate is completely devoted to them, when actually they are not.  In the case of uncertainty of a mate, more men than women are uncertain about their partner.  There are few different possible reasons for this.  It could be that women are better than men at detecting their partner’s infidelity, men are not good at concealing their own infidelities, or that women are too confident when they shouldn’t be.  This uncertainty traces back to what we have been studying about sex differences in the class.  There has always been insecurity among men because they are never certain that their child is actually theirs, which is known as paternal insecurity.  The costs of making the error when uncertain about a partner are low and the benefits are high, because it might spark a fight among the couple, but if the accusing partner is wrong, they know their mate is faithful.  EMT, however, does not explain the circumstances in relationships that might increase sensitivity to their partner’s betrayal. 

          There are a few circumstances that the author writes about why a partner might stray and what evokes jealousy, primarily a man’s jealousy.   The first is erectile dysfunction.  Many men have the problem of impotence, which can be caused by organic problems, such as diabetes, age, and psychological sources, such as insecurity or performance anxiety.  Impotence causes jealousy.  If a man is impotent, it triggers sexual jealousy in him because he feels that his partner is then looking elsewhere for affection.  A woman might be motivated to have affairs or leave the man if the man constantly fails to become erect, or the women could simply risk failure at reproduction herself. 

          Another circumstance that evokes jealousy is alcohol intoxication.  There is a link between alcohol and jealousy.  Jealousy can arise during alcoholism due to the suspicions of jealousy, which may actually be delusional.  The author writes about a study that took place in 1985 with 100 alcoholics.  Out of these 100 men, 35% of the men were diagnosed as extremely jealous.  Alcohol is related to jealousy because it might lower a man’s inhibitions, which causes him to vent suspicions that he already had.  It also might make those men who are concerned about their troubled marriages more prone to drink heavily.  Alcohol also creates suspicions that were not there, produces errors in logic, and twists the interpretation of facts.  Alcohol is also linked with potency problems.  There is domino effect that then starts with alcohol.  Alcohol causes impotency, which causes jealousy.  There is another vicious cycle that is caused by alcohol.  A man’s alcohol abuse leads to unpleasant sex, which causes the wife to decline her sexual advances, which then triggers jealousy and suspicions of infidelity. 

          A man’s inability to satisfy his partner sexually is another circumstance that enhances jealousy among men.  This “masculine insecurity” is a man’s concern over his wife’s sexual orgasm.  The lack of satisfaction may lead the woman to leave.  In a case written by Buss, a man became jealous when he thought that his penis wasn’t big enough to satisfy his wife.  He assumed that his wife was used to a larger sized penis from her previous partners.  Buss states, “Since an inability to satisfy a partner sexually causes marital unhappiness, and marital unhappiness causes divorce, it is reasonable to conclude that sexual dissatisfaction raises the likelihood of breaking up.”  This is a point that I questioned because although sex is an important part of marriage, I do not feel that it is grounds for divorce or breaking up.  Breaking up over sex I feel is a little extreme.  The man could possibly go on medication, or see a doctor because there could be something physically wrong with him that could be cured. 

          When a woman’s sexual desire declines, the man becomes paranoid and jealous.  This is known as “conjugal paranoia.”  The man feels that if the woman is not achieving sexual satisfaction from him, she is getting it elsewhere.  A woman might also be bored with the relationship, and not just with the sex.  If this is the case, the woman is not satisfied both emotionally and sexually, which then triggers a jealous reaction out of the man. 

          Another jealousy factor is the differences in desirability.  There are a few components to desirability, which affects both men and women equally.  The value of your mate is a big determining factor in jealousy.  A couple can be equal in value when they first get married, but when one partner’s career takes off, and the other one’s doesn’t, this leads to a gap in mate value.  The more successful mate becomes more confident and appealing to people of the opposite sex.  The status of a mate either makes them more attractive to other people or less attractive to their partner, depending if the status is positive or negative.  There is less jealousy friction between a couple who are both valued at a 6, as compared to a couple where one is valued at a 10 and the other an 8.  This value gap can also be explained by a woman’s loss of physical attractiveness.  This can cause extreme jealousy if the woman feels she cannot match up to younger and more vibrant women with whom the man might find more attractive.  Aging is another desirability factor. When a man experiences professional success, his attractiveness elevates.  The same can also occur for women.  If a woman’s career takes off and her income starts to exceed her husband’s, she becomes more noticed.   Health is another change in desirability that favors women.  Women live longer than men because men contract illness at an earlier age.  Since men's health fails at an earlier age than women, this creates desirability differences where none existed before. 

          With the desirability differences, Buss states, "The person higher in mate value comes to feel 'under-benefited' in the relationship, sensing that there exist better possibilities elsewhere."  Buss also writes, "The people who believed that they were superior in some way to their partner felt that they were 'unlucky in marriage,' and consequently felt justified in having affairs sooner and more frequently than those who felt 'lucky' in marriage."  The less desirable partner then feels jealous, while the more attractive partner becomes less jealous because they know that there are better opportunities.  I found it interesting when Buss wrote that the more committed partner is less desirable, and these are the people that are more vulnerable to getting dumped. 

                  Buss wrote about an intriguing discovery among jealous men who have experienced a parental infidelity during their adolescence.  In some of the cases that Buss used in his writings, the husband had witnessed his mother having sex with a man other than her husband, which in turn made him an insanely jealous husband.  One man was so jealous that he convinced himself that he was not the father of his children, he would monitor his wife's phone calls, search her purse, and accused her of being unfaithful.  This man had concluded that women could not be trusted because when he was 12, he walked in on his mom having sex with another man.  This type of early trauma can evoke intense sexual jealousy.  It can sensitize a person to signs of infidelity. 

          Symbiotic pathology is another complexity that leads to aspects of jealousy.  This is when the intensity of a man's jealousy shows the woman the strength of his commitment and the depth of his love.  Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder where a person has a fear of places where escape might be difficult.  Agoraphobics primarily stay in the home and try to avoid public places.  A husband's jealousy subsides when his wife is agoraphobic because he does not have to worry about his wife meeting other men outside of the home.  In one case, a woman was agoraphobic, so she sought help and when she was pretty much cured, her husband became so jealous that he attempted suicide.  She became agoraphobic again and her husband's jealousy subsided. 

          Through reading this chapter, I learned a lot about jealousy and what it stems from.  It is so unfortunate to hear how out of hand jealousy gets, and how it can ruin people's lives.  In conclusion to this chapter, with jealousy, evolution by selection will favor the inference that leads to the less costly error in order to avoid the more costly error.  This means that it is more beneficial to wrongly accuse your partner of being unfaithful, hopefully only causing an argument, than to never think that your partner would be unfaithful and have cheating on you unknowingly. 

If I can’t Have Her, Nobody Can

I think everyone has been jealous at some point in his/her own life.  But have you ever asked yourself why do I feel this way?  What is making me feel so jealous?  In the article The Dangerous Passion by David M. Buss, he tries to describe and explain where jealousy stems from.  According to Buss, jealousy comes in every shape and size.  Most people typically think of jealous violence acts committed by men but women are at fault too. 

According to Buss, sexual jealousy lies at the root of spousal battering.  In one study where they interviewed 44 battered wives seeking refuge in women’s hostel, 55 percent reported that jealousy was one of the main reasons why their husband assaulted them.  Violence is not limited to marital mateships.  It is also very prevalent during dating.  More than a dozen studies have examined dating violence, and the numbers are disturbing.  19 to 64 percent of women have reported violence acts and threats during the dating period.  Another important fact is that violence against partners triggered by sexual jealousy is not limited to the United States, or to Western cultures.  Here is an example of a violent act that occurred halfway around the globe in Botswana.

“N/ahka, a middle aged woman, was attacked by her husband.  His   

 assault resulted in injuries to her face, head and lips.  Her husband

accused her of sleeping with another man…N/ ahka and her husband

had been married for many years but had no children together.  Her

only child was a girl of about fourteen years whose father was a

Herero (A neighboring tribe) and to whom N/ ahka had not been

married.  The father never contributed to his daughter’s support, and

for many years the child had been reared by N/ ahka’s parents who

lived in a different village.  When N/ ahka’s parents heard about the

beating, they made plans to lodge a formal complain…against their son-

in-law.  Other people, not close relatives of N/ ahka or her husband,

claimed that the couple had a long history of discord, allegedly

because the wife like to sleep with Bantu men.” (Buss p. 104)

The passage is a main example of how men react when they feel threaten by their partner.  The thought of their partner having sexual intercourse with other men is intolerable.  Suspicion or detection causes men to lash out in very severe ways.  I’m not saying that it is right, but study after study proves that men take infidelity very seriously. 

          There are different ways in which men and women can inflict injury onto their partner.  Some acts of violence are: pushing, shoving, kicking, throwing objects, destroying property and holding guns to the person’s head or body parts.  Violent acts vary widely in form.  Here are some questions to ask yourself if you are at risk for violence from your partner.

1.       He is jealous and does not want you to talk to other men.

2.     He tries to limit your contact with family or friends.

3.     He insists on knowing whom you are with and where you are at all times.

4.     He calls you names to put you down or make you feel bad.

5.     He prevents you from knowing about or having access to the family income, even if you ask.

These may act as indicators as to weather or not you are at risk, but it is very important to note that even though you might have said yes to all question, it is possible to have a partner who will not be violent. 

          There is also the question as to weather or not women are as violent as men are?  According to Buss, the frequency of acts of violence in mating relationships is indeed approximately equal for the two sexes, with half perpetrated by men and half by women.  Some research on date violence suggests that women actually exceed men in some particular acts of violence.  However in one study more men than women threw or smashed more objects  (47 percent for men versus 40 percent for women) and forced sex on their partners (6 percent versus 1 percent).  Many acts of violence that women do are clearly in self-defense.  According to Buss, in a case, a woman used violence as an anticipatory defense strategy developed after a long history of experiencing her husband’s wrath: “I know that look he gets when he gets ready to hit me.  We’ve been married for ten years, and I’ve seen that look of his.  So he gets that look, and I get something to hit him with.  Once I hit him with a lamp.  Another time I stabbed him.  Usually I don’t get so bad, but I was real fearful that time.” (Buss p. 108)  It is important to note that although studies show that women assault their spouses as much as men, there are two crucial difference.  First a women’s violence is almost always prompted by self-defense against her husband who is about to be violent.  Women rarely initiate the battering.  Second women who are violent do far less damage.  Buss made an interesting point when he stated that there are no shelters for battered husbands.  That says something about how society views women battering men. 

          Here are some explanations as to why men have committed jealous, violent acts.  The first explanation is “socialization”, which says that men beat their wives because parents, teachers, and television teach them to do so.  A second explanation invokes “male norms of aggressiveness,” which means that men explode on their wives because “American society views it as the normal and manly thing to do”.  (Buss, p. 110)  A third popular explanation proposes that patriarchy in Western culture is primarily responsible.  Meaning that many men still see it as their right to batter women who oppose their authority.  It seems that there is a bigger issue at stake here besides the violent acts committed by men and the bigger issue is the thought process these men have.  It seems imperative to teach men to not view women as objects and respect them instead.  Here is one response given, “Dad could get really man.  He hit Mom in the forest when she had sex with another.  Mom used to have sex with another (or several others).  He hit mom.  They would fight.  They would scratch faces…”

          It is scary to see that jealousy and violence seem to walk hand in hand.  Studies have showed that most people have had thoughts of killing someone else at one point, and that homicidal thoughts are thousands of times more common than actual killings.  It is also interesting that young females are at greater risk because they symbolize fertility.  Also women with children from a previous partner are at great risk.  What we do know for sure is that men are most likely to use violence when they discover infidelity or suspect infidelity.  Knowing this information, it is our responsibility as society to teach men how to control and deal with jealousy. 

          There is also an evolutionary explanation for mate killing.  The “slip-up hypothesis” states that dead bodies result from slips in a dangerous game of brinkmanship.  Men use violence to control women and to prevent them from leaving.  In order to control the women and make their threats credible, actual violence has to be used.  In the case of “slip-up hypothesis” the violent acts get out of hand and people die as a result of it. 

          A common statement that killers have used is, “If I can’t have you, nobody can.”  Many men want to keep their women to themselves.  If a woman threatens to leave or actually does leave a man some men will kill the female so no one else can mate with her.  There are also some benefits that are offered by Buss as explanations to why murder occurs.  The first explanation involves a polygynous system.  If a man has several wives and a wife sleeps with another man, the husband my kill the wife and use her as an example to show the other wives that if they do the same thing they will die also. 

          A second explanation says that a man’s reputation would have suffered so extensively as a result of a wife’s infidelity that killing her would be the only means of getting back his lost honor.  Basically, killing an unfaithful wife sometimes restores a man’s honor.  Third, sexual infidelity could have inflicted such severe costs on a man in paternity uncertainty, that killing the woman may have been a viable means of cutting costs. 

          There have been laws about spousal homicide.  Laws on the books throughout the world acknowledge that the discovery of a partner’s infidelity is sometimes viewed as a “justifiable cause” of mate killing, and thus deserving a less severe form of punishment than other murders.  According to Buss, among the Yapese, for example, a husband who caught his wife in bed with another man, “had the right to kill her and the adulterer or to burn them in the house.”  In Texas until 1974, there were laws that were lenient for killing a wife who strayed.  According to the Texas penal code, such murders went unpunished “when committed by the husband upon the person of anyone taken in the act of adultery with the wife, provided the killing takes place before the parties to the act of adultery have separated.”
 However in the United States today, killing a wife or her lover is considered a criminal act.  The actual penalties levied against such killers tend to be more lenient than for other types of killings.  

According to Buss, “there must be more to the story of lethal violence, something beyond the desire to exert control.  This evidence supports the theory that estrangement, especially when the husband’s loss is compounded by a rival’s gain, may have been one of the most severe costs that a husband could incur.  Homicide may have been an adaptive method or reducing this cost.  As disturbing as this idea is, we much confront the demons of human nature if we are ever to understand and prevent the abhorrent act of wife killing.” 

Courtney Ball

Megan Cargile

The Othello Syndrome


I.                  Error Management Theory

A.    Definition/Explanation

1.      the two ways of being wrong about something and the costs they each entail

2.     adaptive errors: inferences about the uncertain world erred in the direction of believing that errors occur more than they do

B.     Evolution by selection will favor the inference that leads to the less costly error in order to avoid the more costly error

II.             Erectile Dysfunction and Male Menopause

A.     Impotence causes jealousy

1.     if a man is impotent, it triggers sexual jealousy in him because he feels the women is then looking elsewhere for affection

III.         Alcohol Intoxication

A.     The link between alcohol and jealousy

1.     alcohol lowers a man’s inhibition

2.    men who are concerned about their troubled marriages may be more prone to drink heavily

3.    create suspicions, produce errors in logic, twist facts

B.      A domino effect

1.     alcohol -> impotency -> jealousy

2.    unpleasant sex -> woman declines sexual advances -> jealousy and suspicions of infidelity

IV.             Women’s Sexual Dissatisfaction

A.     “Masculine insecurity”

1.     a man’s concern over his wife’s sexual orgasm

2.    a man’s inability to satisfy his partner sexually is a powerful trigger of sexual jealousy

B.      Sexual dissatisfaction is linked with marital unhappiness

1.     marital unhappiness causes divorce, therefore sexual dissatisfaction increases chances of breaking up

V.                 Women’s Decline in Sexual Desire

A.     “Conjugal paranoia”

1.     “If she is not achieving sexual satisfaction with me, she must be achieving it with someone else.”

B.      Boredom with relationship and sex

VI.             Differences in Desirability

A.    Mate Value

1.      status can cause gaps in mate value

B.     Women’s loss in physical attractiveness causes extreme jealousy in women

C.     Aging takes a greater toll on women

1.      when husband experiences professional success

D.    Health causes change in desirability, favoring women

1.      women live longer than men

VII.        Shocking Discoveries

A.     A parental infidelity during adolescence can heighten jealousy in adulthood

VIII.    Symbiotic Pathology

A.     Definition/Explanation

1.     the intensity of a man’s jealousy shows a woman the strength of his commitment and the depth of his love

B.      Agoraphobia

1.     an anxiety disorder resulting in a fear of places where escape might be difficult

2.    coexists in a delicate balance of a man’s sexual jealousy

IX.            Pathology of Jealousy

A.     Many men and women diagnosed as “pathologically jealous” turn out to have partners who are having affairs, have had them, or are thinking about having them


IF I Can’t Have Her, Nobody Can


I.                  Jealousy and Battering

A.     Sexual jealousy lies at the root of spousal battering.

1.     Out of 44 battered women, 55% reported that jealousy was on of the main reasons their husband assaulted them.

B.      Violence is not limited to marital mateships, it is prevalent during dating.

C.      Violence against partners triggered by sexual jealousy is not limited to the United States, or to Western cultures, or even to particular political systems.

D.     Ranges of Injuries

1.     pushing, shoving, kicking, throwing objects, destroying property, waving blunt instruments, and pressing guns to partners heads.

II.             Are You at Risk for Violence from Your Partner? 

A.    He is jealous and doesn’t want you to talk to other men.

B.     He tries to limit your contact with your family or friends

C.     He insists on knowing whom you are with and where you are at all times.

D.    He calls you names to put you down or make you feel bad

E.     He prevents you from knowing about or having access to the family income, even if you ask.

1.      There is a clear association between responses to these five questions and a woman’s susceptibility to various forms of violence from her husband.

2.     The more items you affirm as applicable to your partner, the higher the likelihood that you will be a victim of violence

3.     It is possible, or course to have a partner who exhibits all of these possessive behaviors but nonetheless does not use violence.

III.         Are Women as Violent as Men?

A.    The frequency of acts of violence in mating relationships is approximately    

equal for the two sexes, with half perpetrated by men and half by women.

B.     Women more than men report pushing or shoving their partner. 

C.     Men more than women threw or smashed more objects.

D.    Although studies show that women assault their spouses as much as men, there are two critical differences:

1.       Women’s violence is typically prompted by self-defense against a

husband who is about to beat them.

2.     Women on average do far less damage than men when they enter the fray. 

E.     There are no shelters for battered husbands, nor do hospitals house many men whose bones have been broken by as assaultive wife.

F.     Men assault their partners out of jealousy, and although women sometimes attack out of jealousy, more often it is in defense against a husband who is attacking them out of jealousy.

G.     In both cases, jealousy lies at the core of the conflict.

IV.             Explanations of Jealous Violence

“At the core of nearly all the cases involving physical violence, the husband responded out of frustration at being unable to control the wife, often accusing her of being a whore or of having an affair with another man.”

A.    “Socialization” - men beat their wives because parents, teachers, and

television teaches them to do so.

B.     “Male Norms of Aggressiveness” - men explode on their wives because American society views it as the normal and manly thing to do.

C.     The patriarchy in Western culture is primarily responsible.    “Many man still see it as their right to batter women who oppose their authority…battering is simply an exaggerated version of the power and control that remain the norm in American marriages.”

D.    Jealousy violence is not merely an American phenomenon, nor can it be attributed to Western culture, media images of capitalism.  Spousal battering occurs in every culture. 

V.                 Is Domestic Violence Adaptive?

A.    By making the price of unfaithfulness sufficiently high, men hope to deter their spouses from sleeping with other men

B.     Violence may represent men’s last-ditch effort to hold on to partners who are on the verge of defecting

C.     Violence may be more prevalent when men lack economic resources that might fulfill a core desire of women’s initial mate choice.

D.    In a study of 100 women at a shelter, majority returned to their husband.

E.     Aggression works sometimes if a wife is frightened enough to choose compliance over death.

F.     Men are most likely to use violence when they discover an infidelity or suspect an infidelity.

VI.             I Know You Really Love Me.

A.    Stalking

1.      Stalk celebrities

2.     Majority of stalkers have been romantically involved. 

3.     Women are four times more likely than men to be stalked are.

Many male stalkers have a history of physically abusing their partners while in the relationship.

4.     Motivated by men desperate to keep their partners.

VII.        Lethal Violence

A.    Women are three times as likely to be killed by an intimate partner as they were to be killed by a stranger.

B.     Explanations:

1.      Her infidelity bothered me, she had gone out with other men.

2.     She would humiliate me in front of others on purpose.

3.     We were always arguing about her extramarital affairs.

4.     We got married on a Saturday.  She took the whole reception as a joke.  She was really vulgar and nasty all day and she wanted to take her clothes off in front of everybody…I know she was a prostitute before.

C.  Women kill because of jealousy, but at a far lower rate.

VIII.    An Evolutionary Explanation for Mate Killing

A.    Martin Daly & Margo Wilson – “Slip-up Hypothesis”

1.      Men use violence to control women, but sometimes the violence gets out of hand and results in death.

B.     Author’s alternative explanation

1.      “If I can’t have you, nobody can.”

2.     In polygnous mating context, killing a wife who cheated could prevent other wives from cheating.

3.     Salvaging lost honor- if woman cheats, so kills her.

4.     Infidelity inflicted such sever costs on the man, that killing the woman may have been a viable means of stanching the costs.

C.     Women are at greatest risk in the first two months after separation, with 47% of the women homicide victims being killed during this interval.

D.    Control

IX.            Laws About Spousal Homicide

A.    Laws that have stated: a partner’s infidelity is sometimes viewed as a “justifiable cause” of mate killing.

B.     In New Mexico and Utah until 1970’s, a husband who found his wife naked in bed with another man and killed them was acquitted, since in the eyes of the court, no crime had been committed.

C.     U.D. today, killing a wife or her lover is considered a criminal act.

X.                Women Who Are Most Vulnerable to Homicide

A.    Young Women

1.      Tend to be more fertile than older women

B.     May-December Marriages

C.     Women with Children from a Previous Partner

1. Man’s perspective, a portion of their resources are tied up.

XI.            Homicidal Fantasies

A.    Most people have had the though of killing someone else at one point or another in their lives.

B.     Homicidal thoughts are thousands of times more common than actual killings.

C.     Mate-Killing psychology