Facebook: The Jealousy Machine

Let’s face it. When we’re romantically interested in someone, we want to know everything we can about that person. Our search for information may involve a small (or large) amount of “Facebook stalking” before we know them well. But Facebook has created new challenges for those of us who are already in relationships. While it’s an easy and public way to monitor our partner’s behavior, it can also lead to situations that prompt unnecessary jealousy. (Like when you find that your boyfriend is posting messages on the wall of a girl you don’t know! Grrr.)

There are some general differences in how men and women experience jealousy in relationships. Women are more likely to be jealous when her partner commits an emotional infidelity, while men are more responsive to sexual infidelities. Women are also more likely to communicate about jealousy, while men would rather not know details and avoid the subject. Furthermore, women are more likely to engage in behavioral jealousy, which in this context would mean actively monitoring her partner’s Facebook page and searching for evidence of betrayal. To test gender disparities in modern behavioral jealousy, Muise, Christofides, and Desmarais (2014), hypothesized that women were more likely to engage in Facebook stalking in response to jealousy than men.

In the study, 160 undergraduate students were given a fictitious Facebook environment to interact with. They were then shown their hypothetical partner’s profile page with a photo of their partner with an attractive person of the opposite sex. The participants were told that this attractive person was a mutual friend, their partner’s cousin, or someone they didn’t know. After reporting their jealousy levels, they were then allowed to spend time searching through both their partner’s fictitious account as well as the attractive person’s to gain more information on this conundrum. Researchers timed the participants as they stalked.

Across all of the conditions (unknown, friend, cousin), women reported higher levels of jealousy. However, women were the most jealous of the unknown person and spent the most time searching the unknown intruder’s page. However, men reported significantly more jealousy in response to the mutual friend than either of the other conditions, but didn’t spend much time investigating the friend.

These results reflect findings of previous studies on the differences between the ways that men and women experience and react to jealousy. While women want to talk about jealousy and spend more time investigating people they suspect, men would rather not know the details of the situation (or talk about it). Thus, even though the men were the most jealous of the friend, they avoided investigating that person.

Modern relationships are intertwined with modern technology, and new complications inevitably arise. While it’s easy to get discouraged with our current situation, this research shows us that men and women react to jealousy in the same ways they always have. In the advent of the invention of new and even more complex digital technologies, we must remember that humans don’t change much, but our world does. Studies like these help us recognize how we bring our humanness to technology, and that’s one thing technology can’t show us.

Muise, A., Christofides, E., & Desmarais, S. (2014). “Creeping” or just information seeking? gender differences in partner monitoring in response to jealousy on facebook. Personal Relationships, 21(1), 35–50. doi:10.1111/pere.12014

“Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” -Gertrude Stein


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