The psychology of infidelity

What goes on in cheaters’ minds?


Cheaters are viewed as dishonest, plain and simple. Most people judge cheaters immediately and don’t consider there might be a science behind cheating.

According to The Spectrum’s sex survey of 702 UB students, nearly 18 percent have cheated on a current or former partner.

Whether you’re the one cheating or getting cheated on, it’s more than just the availability of an opportunity – so much more that experts have applied theory and study to the subject.

In an affair, a person evaluates of the prospect of being with someone else and opportunity cost in regard to their relationship. Affairs are complicated situations and involve more than just the two people having sex, whether the participants realize it or not.

Opportunity cost briefly explains the social exchange theory, in which people evaluate relationships based on the costs and benefits of being in a relationship.

“These can be in the form of both actual and expected rewards versus costs,” said Dr. Lora Park, an associate professor in the psychology department.

According to Park, the theory purports that people evaluate their relationships based on their comparison level, which “reflects the outcomes that people expect to get in a relationship.”

“Some people expect a lot out of their relationship whereas others may expect less,” Park said.

It’s the outcomes of these comparisons that people consider before going outside of their relationship.

When people experience dissatisfaction after not getting what they expected, they tend to look outside of their current relationships and the possibility of alternative relationship partners or scenarios increases, according to Park.

“[If they have] the availability of an attractive alternate partner or the possibility of getting out of the relationship, they may choose to do so,” Park said.

While the availability of an attractive partner does play a role in situations such as these, being able to get out the relationship also plays a part, Park said.

“‘Hookups’: Characteristics and correlates of college students' spontaneous and anonymous sexual experiences,”a study published in The Journal of Sex Research in 2010, showed that within the college-age range most people will have sex out of succorance, or in search of affection or social support.

If someone begins a relationship for succorance and it doesn’t turn out to be what he or she wanted or expected, the possibility of infidelity becomes higher.

Elizabeth L. Paul, Brian McManus and Allison Hayes conducted the study due to the rising threat of sexually-transmitted infections like HIV and AIDs.

The study also found that fearing the loss of individuality would also increase the chances of college kids hooking up, which presents a significant dichotomy in the formation of relationships in the college-age group.

While the results of this study do not justify cheating, they do confirm that there is more to cheating than available opportunity.

The varying styles of attachment employed by is also different, males are less likely to employ the agape style, which is a total love, when compared to their female counterparts.

Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, in an article for Psychology Today, said that outside of emotional and sexual dissatisfaction in a relationship, the desire for new experiences could be the driving force in certain situations.

“People who cited this reason felt that they wanted something new, this motivation went beyond curiosity and into some type of contest to measure their sexual prowess,” Whitbourne said. “The allure of someone and something new led them to choose this particular form of challenge.”

In college, people are discovering and defining themselves, for two people to do this and simultaneously build a foundation for a relationship is difficult.

People tend to enter into relationships too quickly to fully understand their expectations for the relationship, finding these out along the way.

More often than not hastiness only leads to relationships failing as individuals are chasing the next best thing in their mind.

Being honest with yourself and your partner about what you’re expecting, where you feel a relationship is lacking and whether or not you want to continue the relationship should be a no-brainer. Although when you add the human factor to an equation, few things are ever simple.

Kenneth Kasif Thomas is an arts desk editor and can be reached at