215 - The Science of Jealousy

Jealousy happens in all types of relationships, but what is the science behind why we respond with jealousy to certain situations. What happens inside our bodies and minds in response things that make us feel jealousy. On this episode, we explore the scientific why behind jealousy and some ways to combat that internal struggle.

Multiamory was created by Dedeker Winston, Jase Lindgren, and Emily Matlack.

Our theme music is Forms I Know I Did by Josh and Anand.

Please send us your feedback and questions to info@multiamory.com, find us on Instagram @Multiamory_Podcast, tweet at us @Multiamory, check out our Facebook Page, visit our website Multiamory.com, or you can leave us a voicemail at 678-MULTI-05. We love to hear from our listeners and we read every message.


This document may contain small transcription errors. If you find one please let us know at info@multiamory.com and we will fix it ASAP.

Dedeker: There was a study that came out in 1992 that basically said, "We found that women are more upset by emotional infidelity and men are more upset by sexual infidelity." Then we can sprinkle in some evolutionary psychology to infer that, "Oh, well, that must be because women are more upset by the idea of someone taking their provider away and men are more upset by someone taking their sexual object away," and everyone who heard that were like, "Makes sense, love it."

Emily: Obviously.

Dedeker: Obviously.

Jase: If you're happy with the same old ways of dating-

Dedeker: You enjoy sucking at communication.

Jase: -and you have no desire to improve your romantic life, then our podcast might not be for you.

Dedeker: You want some out-of-the-box ideas to deepen your current relationships.

Emily: Broaden your sexual horizons.

Dedeker: Develop a better understanding of yourself.

Emily: Or learn more about non-monogamy.

Jase: Then you've come to the right place. I'm Jase.

Emily: I'm Emily.

Dedeker: I'm Dedeker.

Jase: This is the Multiamory podcast.


On this episode of the Multiamory podcast, we're talking about the science of jealousy. Jealousy comes up in all kinds of situations and in all kinds of relationships but in this episode, we're actually going to be looking at some research out there and what's actually going on under the hood of your human vehicle.

Emily: Your emotional car.


Jase: Yes your emotional car.

Dedeker: If you had an emotional car what would it be?

Jase: Like a DeLorean or sometime.

Dedeker: Really wow.

Emily: Justify that.

Jase: It looks fairly cool but it breaks down all the time.

Dedeker: Come on. You're such a cancer.

Emily: Oh my God, they also get sold so quickly.

Jase: [laughs]

Emily: Such a cancer.


You really are a cancer. I always want to say a Ferrari but that's some bullshit.

Dedeker: [laughs]

Emily: A Mini Cooper or a Beetle.

Dedeker: Yes, I was going to say-- Definitely, I could see you as a Beetle.

Emily: I've had two in my life, that makes sense. I do love that car.

Dedeker: What would I be?

Emily: If I like something really hippie maybe the classiest Subaru around.

Dedeker: I could see a Subaru. I feel like I'm not quite a Jeep, I'm not quite full on rugged, open-air Jeep but I do feel like my emotions could be like-- I don't know is a forerunner a Jeep.

Emily: Toyota forerunner.

Dedeker: Why do you know that?

Emily: I know quite a lot of car things, I like cars.

Dedeker: Because me with my emotions, I feel it's definitely if there's problems just keep on trucking until the car suddenly Breaks down, but it's not going to give you any indication it's really tough, built to last.

Emily: You could be like a Grand Cherokee.

Dedeker: Yes, something like that.

Jase: Now, I'm just thinking about different metaphors for different-

Emily: Metamora, metaphors.

Jase:  -For different cars, if your emotional car is a BMW where it runs really great, works great but when it breaks down it's very expensive to fix because you need very specialized parts for it.


If your emotional car is a Honda Accord, runs great, it's really cheap to maintain but it's also very popular to steal because their parts are so salable.

Emily: What does that mean?

Dedeker: Really easy for people to manipulate you emotionally or something?

Jase: Yes maybe because your emotions are so predictable and the parts that make them up or so widespread people can more easily manipulate you. I'm just trying to come up with car metaphors.

Emily: Please out there you all let us know what your emotional car is-


Dedeker: We would love to know that. Anyway, to bring us back to the episode. Yes, jealousy it's been a minute since we've actually directly addressed a full episode about jealousy.

Jase: Yes.

Dedeker: I feel personally, I don't know about what the two of you think about this but I feel we've avoided specifically talking about jealousy for a while now because for me it's always the low hanging fruit of anyone who identifies as non-monogamous. That's always the question, it's always the question what do you do if you get jealous? What if you get jealous? How do you avoid jealousy? It's very important questions, very important conversations to have but I think in my personal life I'm just, "I'm sick of talking about this." What I tend to try to bring to the show is let's talk about anything but this topic specifically.

Emily: Yes, our deconstructing jealousy episode was after we did that talk at Berkeley. It was basically centered around what we talked about there. I think a lot of people really liked it and said that it was a great episode for them. We were like, "Well, we're not going to do anything else about it then for a while."

Dedeker: We're going to quit rolling our heads.

Emily: Yes, exactly I'm like 100 episodes later...here we are again, it's pretty amazing.

Jase: I feel part of it too might be that it's not something that comes up for us very often going like, "Oh yes, we haven't talked about that in awhile because of how often it does come up in conversations," like when people are...

Emily: In episodes, we talk about it a bit.

Jase: Yes, that's true too but I just mean any time I'm interviewed by someone, we're like, "Oh, we're writing a thing about non-monogamy and we want to learn more about it. Those are always the questions. It's never like, "Man, that's something I haven't talked about in a while." It's always there.

Dedeker: When I initially set out to research this episode I wanted it to be about the history of jealousy. The same way that we've examined or read books about or seen blog post about the history of romantic love, for instance, or the history of the concept of soul mates, I really wanted to know the history of just culturally, in literature, in movies what is our collective cultural story around jealousy. I really wanted to dive into that but I ended up chasing this other rabbit of science, the rabbit of science.

Emily: [laughs] What does that rabbit look like, science rabbit.


Dedeker: It seems like a science rabbit yes. That's where I ended up going. I do still want to do that deep dive and definitely, if anyone has new resources out there or anything interesting they've come across specifically about that, the history of Jealousy as a concept, I will definitely love to read it so send it my way. When you talk about science because at Multiamory we love science.

Emily: Yes.

Jase: We do love science.

Dedeker: We do love science.

Emily: Yes, first we're going to talk about what goes on in your body when you feel jealous. This is something I really remember feeling when you and I started our polyamorous journey together. I felt a really intense jealous anger feeling in my hands which makes no sense at all.

Dedeker: Like you want to punch something?

Emily: No, it was a tingling sensation all through my fingertips too. I used to feel a lot of emotions in my hands again no idea why. I could also feel intense love in my hands, intense anger or various things.

Dedeker: Your emotional car is hands actually.


Emily: There you go. Although I will say that's not something that I can point to anymore. I haven't recalled feeling that in quite some time.

Jase: Do any kind of emotion in your hands.

Emily: Yes, not the same thing. I'll have to think about that.

Jase: That's so interesting.

Dedeker: Way back in the day jealousy lived in your hands and it's not a particular moment that you're recalling?

Emily: Correct.

Dedeker: Interesting I think for me when jealousy has struck me the most intense it tends to be more stomach based. It feels like my stomach has dropped out. I definitely lose any appetite whatsoever. It's a mix between feeling like I'm really nauseated or feeling I just have no stomach. I think that's the thing that keeps my stomach when I think about times I've been really struck with jealousy.

Emily: Interesting views.

Jase: For me, it's in my chest. For me, it's like there's a weight, I can't take deep enough breaths or there's a tightness there. I think for me that's also where like stress will show up for me. It's in my breathing or in my chest as if there's a weight there or there's something just constricting that part of my body so it can't move as well. It is really interesting that we all feel it in different parts of our bodies and I'm sure other people feel it in other ways as well. I get the stomach thing sometimes too like its severe-related but I think the main one for me is the chest.

Essentially, what's going on here is this is something that's known as the acute stress response also probably better known as fight or flight or sometimes Fight-Flight-Freeze since that is another option if you've ever seen a deer in headlights literally that's the freeze version of the Fight-Flight-Freeze. This is something that happens basically when we're presented with a threat like a predator or a car coming at us or if we're agitated or we're angry or we're scared. Those feelings are very much related to jealousy. If you think about jealousy in terms of the fear of losing something or feeling like it's unfair that someone has something that you don't. In either case, there's elements of being agitated or being angry or being scared or feeling threatened and so it's bringing up some of the same responses physically.

Emily: Yes, and other physical symptoms, the ones that we've talked about obviously but then, in addition, things like your heart beating faster, maybe sweating, breath rate increases, you might get muscle tension, you might get sleepy in some cases or shaky in other cases. You might have things like butterflies in your stomach or sinking feeling in your stomach. That can happen because blood and oxygen are being redirected, which is really interesting. Also, the other really awful one is that sometimes- what your sphincter muscles loosen?

Dedeker: Yes, the idea is that if your body is preparing to protect you from a threat, it's redirecting all of its resources to the things that it thinks you're going to need, like your muscles so that you could be ready to run or increasing the rate that you're breathing or your heartbeat so that you can pump your blood better and you get can oxygenated faster. That means it's shutting down other parts of your body that are not needed.

Emily: Like your peripheral vision, for example.

Dedeker: Yes, your peripheral vision, like your stomach, your digestion shuts down. One that I've read about is the part of your brain that's responsible for converting your thoughts into speech, into words essentially, that shuts down and that's why a lot of people experience the sense of not even being-- that's like the scared speechless thing. It doesn't even have to be extreme fear but it's the idea of just being totally paralyzed when it comes to trying to describe what's going on or trying to put it into words.

Emily: Interesting.

Dedeker: Yes, part of that is the sphincter too, apparently. I think that also comes from-- in a lot of animals, that when they're scared, they'll suddenly poop or pee and that's also getting rid of extra weight essentially in some species so that you can run away faster. That still sticks around with us too. For some people, when they get the fight or flight response, they suddenly need to go to the bathroom. I think that's pretty common. It's not just the physical symptom but of course in your brain as well. Like I mentioned, where that section of your brain that's responsible for converting your thoughts into words shuts down, your mind is also going to be reverting into what I refer to as the radar system, not our radar.

Jase: Got to call that something else.

Emily: Yes, I know.

Dedeker: The traditional-- the Doppler, some kind of-

Emily: Tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut.

Dedeker: Yes, some kind of ultrasonic, subsonic, some kind of sonic-

Emily: Supersonic woman out of you.

Dedeker: Yes, a supersonic woman in your brain who's sleeping and just trying to keep track of, "What are the things that are going to hurt me?" When you're in this state, your brain is going to be more likely to be thinking about all the terrible possible ways that this could go, all of the really negative future outcomes. It's also bringing memories of stuff that happened in the past that resemble this situation. This is something that's referred to as state-dependent memory, as in when you're back in a similar emotional state, it becomes a lot easier to remember other times in the past when you were in that emotional state versus if you're feeling great, it's a bit harder for your brain to actually call up memories of a time that you're feeling crappy or feeling depressed or feeling jealous, for instance. The brain does this is because again, it's trying to protect you, it's trying to make it a problem-solving situation where it's like you go through the Rolodex of, "Was there something similar that happened in the past that were similar to this? Could that solution that worked then, could it possibly work now?" Things like that.

Emily: Speaking of brain functions, often it can be hard to just snap out of this state because your frontal lobes are not engaged in this process. We talked about this a little bit in the War for Love episode which was 177 but the idea of primitives and the ambassadors. The ambassadors are the things that are able to reason with yourself and to say like, "Wait a minute, is this response that I'm having really justify it? Is it something that I need to be doing? Do I need to be getting as angry in this moment or whatever in this moment as I am?" Whereas your primitives just have this initial automatic response and they're the ones that are not in your frontal lobes and are making that kind of Fight-Flight-Freeze-- that's very difficult to say.

Jase: It is, right?

Emily: Yes, but they're making that response as opposed to your ambassadors.

Jase: Then, the last thing we want to say about this, for now, we'll hopefully going to talk about this a little bit more at the end of the episode with some takeaways. That's just to keep in mind that all of this came from a place of trying to protect you, of your brain and your body trying to protect you from real life threats like actual predators or other-

Emily: Saber-toothed tigers.

Jase: Right, saber-toothed tigers or other people trying to kill you or whatever it is, an actual real life or death kind of threat. The problem comes about that because humans have this ability to think about things in the abstract and to actually call up certain memories or imagine things, that this fight or flight part of our brain doesn't always know how to tell the difference between what's a real threat and what's an imagined threat. This is why- say you go and you watch a scary movie that you'll feel those physical symptoms of stress, maybe your palms will get sweatier, maybe your mouth will get drier, maybe your breathing will get shallower, your heart will race. I know for me playing certain video games, I'll look at my Fitbit and I'm like, "Boy, that pulse is up," because that part of your brain that's controlling your body doesn't know the difference between the fact that this is just a mental exercise in potentially stressful situations versus actually being in those situations.

Dedeker: The way that my therapist described it to me is that it's like your brain and especially your frontal lobes, your higher brain is using language- essentially it's like texting, it's like it's trying to text your lower brain, it'll be like, "Hey this is what's going on, this person said this to me but then this person went on this date and then I was like, "I don't know how I was feeling."" Your lower brain is like, "I only understand binary. I only understand ones and zeroes." Is it scary, is it not? If it's not scary, cool and if it is scary, then I'm going to do what I do as a lower brain. The lower brain doesn't have a sense of nuance in situations and that's why even in situations where it's like, "Clearly my partner going on a date and me feel threatened doesn't threaten my life but my body's still going to react as though it does."

Emily: It does, yes.

Dedeker: That's what's happening in your body but I really wanted to dive a little bit deeper into what's going on in the brain and why is this happening in the brain. I went really far down the rabbit hole of jealousy research and I really quickly found out there's a lot of jealousy research but there's a lot of problems with jealousy research. Really I had to spend a lot of time researching, find the stuff that was actually answering the question that I wanted. I'm just going to break down a couple of the recurring things that comes up in a lot of jealousy research that is maybe a little bit difficult. It was definitely difficult for me. The first one is what's known as the J-S-I-M or the JSIM model-

Emily: Not to be confused with Jason, JSIM.

Dedeker: No, not Jason, the JSIM model. I didn't know it was called this but it's basically the hypothesis is-- there was a study that came out in 1992 that basically said, "We found that women are more upset by emotional infidelity and men are more upset by sexual infidelity." Then we can sprinkle in some evolutionary psychology in further like, "That must be because women are more upset by the idea of someone taking their provider away. Men are more upset by someone taking their sexual object away." Everyone heard that and were like, "Make sense, love it."

Emily: Obviously.

Dedeker: Obviously. I first even heard that hypothesis from a friend of mine. It wasn't even in the scientific journal, it was just a friend of mine being like, "This is a thing. This is a fact," and being like, "Oh."

Jase: I learned about it in psych class in college.

Dedeker: Really?

Jase: Yes, that's just as if that's how it goes.

Emily: Yes.

Dedeker: This was first published in 1992 and it has been controversial since then. I realize in researching this that in academic and scientific communities, it wasn't like people were like, "Okay, that's a fact now." It was controversial because, since 1992, there have been countless studies showing that there actually isn't much of a gendered difference in the experience of jealousy.

Emily: Since 1992, and yet like Dr. Drew I swear, recently on a podcast that I listened to that had them on it said essentially-

Jase: Basically that.

Emily: -the same thing. He was like, "Women have a harder time with emotional infidelity or just they're more interested in emotions and men are more interested in sex. Obviously.

Dedeker: It just so perfectly fits into our already established cultural stories about men and women of like, "Those emotional ladies and those horndog dudes."

Emily: Exactly.

Dedeker: It totally makes sense.

Jase: I would requestion this.

Emily: Yes.

Dedeker: Yes, even in the academic research, even researches are still trying to puzzle over why did this one study produce that result [crosstalk]

Emily: It was just one? It was just one and then everybody jumped on that bandwagon?

Dedeker: Yes. Then why have there been so many more studies that have disproven that? Why did they get that results? Some people have theorized that, "oh, maybe it has to do with intensity of emotion in general that that's the difference between the genders that they surveyed."

Jase: I remember I also heard a hypothesis that it had to do with men or women being conditioned to be better at imagining certain situations.

Dedeker: I remember that too.

Jase: There's lots of different explanations for it but the point is that it's been shown to not actually be true that that's not necessarily true.

Dedeker: There's been some studies that have found that no, actually both men and women are just generally more upset by emotional infidelity than sexual and so it's actually they're similar in that way. Other studies have shown not just infidelity in general, is upsetting to people across the board and, of course, there's variations and how upset people get but it's not really split among gender lines necessarily. That's what they found.

Emily: Does this next quote come from the exact same study?

Dedeker: No. The quote that's here comes from this book on jealousy that was published on 2010 by Dr. Christine Harris who's specifically like an emotion researcher, and she published a book specifically about jealousy and jealousy research and how evolutionary psychology theories play into that.

Emily: She said that, "Ancient humans might not have been as nuclear a family as because people often assume, which makes sense like they were tribal cultures. Way different than what we currently have. So should I read this?

Dedeker: Yes. Go ahead and read the quote.

Emily: "The ancestral past may have been significantly different than the one envisioned in the JSIM hypothesis. In fact, very little is known for certain regarding the socio-cultural environment in which humans evolved. One possibility is that infidelity may not have occurred at high enough rates to require the evolution of specific jealousy mechanisms. A very different hypothesis is that the ancestral past of humans may have been like many hunter-gatherers societies of the present, where sharing and cooperation are emphasized thus individual males may not have been responsible for providing resources to their own offspring since the group shared food resources." White N. Molan 1989.

"Therefore, a man's inclusive fitness would not be as disastrously affected by cuckoldry as suggested in the JSIM theory."

Jase: In other words, to kind of cram all that down into a simple concept is that if we're all sharing all of our food, and we're all sharing and the raising of our children, both of those theories go out the window that men had to evolve this thing to make them jealous of sexual infidelity so that they were sure they were only providing for their own children. On the flip side of that, that women didn't have to worry like didn't have to evolve some mechanism for being extra jealous of emotional infidelity, because they were all being provided for by the entire tribe not just by this one guy because he thought the kids were his.

Dedeker: I don't remember who made this observation. I forget where I read this, but someone commented it's so interesting that it's like this is based on this story of, well, a woman has a baby, and then she has to carry that baby so she can't go and get food for herself so she's dependent on her male partner to go get her food and provide for her. But then someone commented, even if you believe that, that it's for some reason that's very like-

Emily: For nine months you can't do anything except for sit there and carry the kid.

Dedeker: Even if you believe that it's that whole problem is solved as soon as you invent the baby sling. That as soon as you're like, I'm going to take a piece of fabric and strap this baby to me so that my hands are free. That then it's like, okay, well, now I can provide food for myself and then it all starts to fall apart that kind of painting this narrative already even ancient human women being so 100% dependent on a singular man instead.

Emily: I don't need no man.

Dedeker: No, it's not even that. Instead of just being dependent, like codependent on a tribe of people or multiple people around them.

Emily: Fascinating.

Jase: Another one is that, basically, in the research stuff has been shown that basically, things have shown that jealousy responses can be linked to relationships lasting longer. They did these studies measuring people's relative amounts of jealousy and they found that people who were more prone to experiencing jealousy were more likely to be in that same relationship after 10 years or I forget exactly how long it was in this study.

Dedeker: We'll talk about that in a second.

Jase: What the study didn't ask was it didn't try to take any measures of whether that was a good relationship. Whether those people were happy or if being more jealous just made you more likely to hang on to and stay in an unhealthy and unhappy relationship. That I thought was kind of interesting, and that a lot of the studies are based around this idea of trying to make the argument that jealousy is something that we've evolved and that it's like, somehow we've evolved it because we need it. Whereas there are other people saying, well, actually, maybe it's more of just kind of a side effect of other things and other ways about the ways that we work. Kind of like dreams.

We don't really know what those are all about. Why we have those?

Dedeker: Like hopes and dreams. Why would we-

Jase: You're such a joker.

Emily: You just said exactly what this quote was. I guess you can just keep going.

Jase: That was it from 1978 to 1985 so what's that? Like seven years that people who were more jealous were more likely to still be with that person after those seven years.

Emily: It's really interesting. Then those who were lower on the jealousy scale were less likely to be involved with that person.

Jase: Yes. Just that those two correlate.

Emily: That is fascinating. To me, the only thing that that potentially suggests is that someone's like well I need to hold on to this relationship with this person because again I don't want someone else to get it. Which is not necessarily the case but because they didn't ask what the relationship satisfaction of those people were one could assess that.

Dedeker: That's been the thing in a lot of this research is that there's a lot of research that's like oh like jealousy is useful or even positive in the sense that it produces these relationships preserving behaviors.

Emily: That's maybe kind of shitty too.

Dedeker: Then they don't also ask the follow-up question of like how does your partner feel about your relationship preserving.

Emily: What exactly does that mean? What would be an example of a relationship reserving behavior?

Dedeker: The very basic story is like you see your partner flirting with someone else so your relationship preserving behavior is you go over and like cock block them in some way.

Jase: I feel like that's on the positive.

Emily: Hit that guy or whatever.

Jase: Well sure. I think the example Dedeker gave is the one that's given in kind of in support of that. It's like you feel this jealousy and so you're going to do something to stop that from happening either go and join that conversation and assert your place like scare the other person off essentially. Which, I guess, scientists could view that as like that's a positive thing. It's like, alerts you to keep an eye on your partner. It's very problematic. On the very negative side of it is that that extreme jealousy leads to things like keeping your partner isolated from their friends and from our people essentially leading to abuse. Both of those are mechanisms that you could say, do serve a purpose of preserving the length of that relationship but at what cost in either situation is very different from the other.

Dedeker: Definitely.

Emily: You were talking about attachment theory when we were discussing this episode, how do you think that this all correlates to attachment theory? We've spoken about that at length. Well, I think we could even do even more episodes about it, but we have talked about it in various episodes.

Jase: I just wanted to bring it up because in another one of these papers that we read this one was by Christine R. Harris and Ryan S. Darby. There we go. Two different last names. That they sort of did this long review of all of the research that's out there about jealousy in 2010 when they wrote this, I believe. Kind of trying to put that together and reconcile some of the different findings the different studies have found, and when it came to attachment theory that's often brought up in relation to jealousy. Go listen to our episodes where we've talked about attachment theory for more about that.

What I thought was interesting was specifically looking at people who are securely attached. Those people tend to have a fairly good opinion of themselves, and also a fairly good opinion of other people. They're more likely to be trusting, less likely to constantly be worrying about the state of their relationships. Some studies have hypothesized and then gone to show that securely attached people are less likely to feel jealousy. Like when imagining certain situations they'll report lower levels of imagined-jealousy about that situation. Then in other studies, they had shown that securely attached people were more likely to react angrily like to react with jealous anger.

Emily: That's really interesting.

Jase: I guess, they were trying to make the case that somehow these securely attached people are just more likely to have like a good strongly evolved relationship preserving mechanism or something that's really hypothesis or wise, weird and a little achy.

Emily: Because when I think of a securely attached person, I do not think of a jealous person.

Jase: I don't think of an angry person either.

Emily: Totally. I think if someone who has like a good handle on those emotions.

Dedeker: Well, I think that the recurring theme here is that it's I feel like culturally and socially we're always writing like this line between do we think jealousy is a healthy thing that comes up in relationships and is an admirable thing versus do we think it's not so much of an admirable thing? I feel like even anecdotally, I just talking to people on the street, I feel like it goes both ways. Like there are some people who are like, seriously, if my partner is jealous that's a huge turnoff. I'm really not into it. Then I also feel like I talked to the equal amount of people who are like if my partner doesn't act jealous that I'd be worried or kind of equating jealousy with love or attachment to a certain extent. I do feel that the fact that we're seeing this in the wide array of studies and surveys, I think that does reflect in the general population as well.

Jase: Can I read these two quotes that were at the top of this thing that Harrison Darby put together.

Emily: Harris, Darby.

Jase: They put these two quotes at the top, which I thought was great. One quote goes, "If you have not experienced jealousy you have not loved." The second one is, "Jealousy that dragon which slaves love under the pretense of keeping it alive."

Dedeker: Two sides of the same.

Jase: I started this whole thing showing how like, and these are St. Augustine and have a lock LS, like both, well-known philosophers or whatever you would call them that come down on very different sides of this. I love that they showed that like, right at the start of this article.

Emily: Well, and I suppose like that, yes usually, if you are in a relationship at some point, you will feel jealous. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's something to at least be aware of, and be aware of, like, how it can potentially make your relationship not good to think about that.

Dedeker: Now we're going to get into what I personally think is the really interesting stuff. As I pored through all these studies and all these different opinions and all these different surveys and papers and journal articles, I found this one survey and the results of which were published in 2017 in the frontiers of psychology journal. The title of the article is pretty on the nose. It's the evolutionary psychology of envy and jealousy. Now, even though the phrase evolutionary psychology is in the title, the article itself is actually quite critical evolutionary psychology itself, which I think is what got me to actually keep reading because I've also become quite critical of evolutionary psychology in recent years.

Emily: Understandably.

Dedeker: We're going to talk more about that in the bonus content. Anyway, they specifically there were trying to figure out like, how does our jealous and envy responses, how do they work? Like, what motivates them, essentially? Because the standard explanation for why this kind of nuanced emotion would have evolved is it's like, well, someone has something that you want and so you need to go and take it. It motivates you to go and take it or to get it for yourself or something like that. It's motivating you to preserve the relationship in some way. The findings that they found from this survey, were actually really, really fascinating.

Emily: One of those findings is that we tend to be more envious or jealous of someone who's similar to us, but doing a little bit better. Rather than someone who's doing like way, way better than us. If we have a neighbor or a friend or someone out there who's doing, slightly better than we are in there, I don't know in their job, like they're making a little bit more money than we are, then we tend to be more jealous of them, then we would be if someone like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. Our sense of envy and jealousy correlates to how we're relatable or attainable we feel that the other person's situation is.

Jase: It's so interesting because if you try to make that argument if like, it's just about because we want the thing someone else has, then you'd think you would be more jealous.

Emily: Of something like larger.

Jase: Or the Bill Gates or Oprahs of the world.

Emily: Well, maybe they're jealous of each other, because like they have similar types of notoriety, I guess.

Dedeker: I think it's not to say that like, you're not at all jealous, or it's impossible to be jealous of someone like Bill Gates or Oprah whoever, but they just found that people are just much more likely to feel jealousy when it is like someone similar to me is making a little bit more money versus someone who's mega-rich.

Emily: I'm jealous of podcast people who make their entire living off of that.

Dedeker: Jase had a conversation about that and now we are here looking through all this stuff.

Emily: 25 million downloads. Gosh.

Jase: What's interesting is something similar to that is being that will be more jealous of someone say like a coworker at work who you feel like works just about as hard as you, pretty much a peer to you and they get a promotion, you're probably going to be much more jealous of that, then someone who's just better than you. Maybe they work way harder than you and they get the promotion or they're way more skilled or something. When they get that promotion, it's more likely to move into admiration. Like wow, that person's great. They really deserved that.

Maybe I wish I was more like them but it's not kind of that same like, what just life is so unfair. Like why did they got that thing and I didn't. That's like a different quality to it. Something that didn't get discussed in this I just wanted to point out is I feel like this is kind of true. On the other side, too. If you see someone who you perceive to be doing much worse than you, that you're also less likely to be jealous of them too.

Dedeker: As in someone who's doing much worse than you getting rewarded?

Jase: Getting something good. Say like, you date a lot, but lately, you've been having some trouble finding dates, and you have a friend who like always struggles with finding dates, and they find a date, you're probably going to be more happy for them because you perceive them to struggle with this more than you saying. It's like, good for you. Like, I'm glad you're coming out. Even if there were like with a job, you have someone you know who makes a lot less than you and you've also been gunning for a promotion at your job and you're frustrated you're not getting it, but then this person who makes less than you get the promotion, you're still more likely to feel positive about like, "that's great.

I'm glad that's working for you. I hope it will for me too," as opposed to someone similar to you or just slightly above you being like, "why couldn't that be me." I think it's kind of interesting on both sides. Once you move out of your immediate peer group, that's where it becomes an issue right.

Dedeker: Now I'm going to throw one more log on the fire here.

Emily: You in your metamore metaphors

Dedeker: This is just a little bit mind-blowing to me, yet it makes perfect sense. They found that we're more likely to feel envy or jealousy of someone who has what we want, regardless of whether they are happy or not. The question they used in the survey, a little bit troublesome. I'll just warn you about that. This was the question that they asked was, let's say that I can prove reliably either by brain scans or something like I can prove that a) the Dalai Lama is way happier on like abstract but a very real scale like the Dalai Lama is for sure the happiest person on the planet.

This is a hypothetical. Let's say I could prove that the Dalai Lama is extremely happy. Do you feel more jealous of him or do you feel more jealous of someone like say, Hugh Hefner who has just like a ton of money, really nice house limitless access to attractive women but we can't tell whether he's happy or not?

Emily: Well he's no longer with us.

Dedeker: Well, Emily, you got to come along with me.

Jase: This is the example they used to narrate the study.

Dedeker: This is the example they used. It's called the hypothetical. They found that people were just way more jealous of Hugh Hefner than they were of the Dalai Lama even when there's a concrete way of proving like yeah this person is much happier. I think it makes perfect sense because we've looked at so many people who are rich, who are attractive who are well off, who have everything they need but are absolutely miserable and yet we still envy their lives anyway.

We've seen time and time and time and time again that the traditional hallmarks of success do not necessarily equal life satisfaction or contentment. Look at how many celebrities and how many people who are well off who kill themselves or who struggle from depression it's like so clear and yet we still are more likely to feel envious of them anyway more than we would have of someone who maybe is very poor or not very well off but who is for sure happy.

Emily: Yes. Money doesn't buy happiness, clearly

Dedeker: Yes, but we don't actually believe that in our emotional car.


Emily: Our emotional car doesn't believe that.

Dedeker: Our emotional car isn't hearing it.

Emily: the emotional car people will be like, what?

Dedeker: It's like there's some part of us this is not actually pursuing happiness or peace or satisfaction. That's what I think is really interesting.

Emily: This next one, I had a little bit of a hard time wrapping my brain around but I understand what you're saying here Dedeker that if there were repeated examples of being jealous, not of the final level of intense pleasure or happiness, but if someone having access to and only slightly enjoying something for which you have a modest desire for and will only modestly enjoy but you don't have access to. That makes sense. Somebody has access to something that you kind of sort of want and you don't and they get it and you don't even know if they really care about it or want it or not. You will still be jealous of that.

Jase: Right. That you're more likely to be jealous of those things. It's kind of similar to the-

Emily: It's kind of like barrier to entry. It's like if somebody out there has access to a Ferrari or a Tesla, I have a friend who has a Tesla 3. I'm like I don't know if I would actually be much happier having a Tesla 3 than my Fiat but I want it. I definitely want it and I am jealous of it. Even though I don't know if she's happier having it either.

Jase: Right, it's kind of similar to the last one. It's really not so much about the happiness that they get from it or the happiness you would get from it but just the fact that they have a thing that you can't.

Emily: We all want things that like the grass is always greener.

Dedeker: Exactly.

Jase: Another one is that we've kind of talked about this on the show in the past, we've talked about jealousy but the researchers in this, they theorized that envy and jealousy may have evolved to motivate us to also go out and get these things that other people have done. I suppose, you could see in that way that that makes sense that if the purpose of jealousy was to help you be motivated to go get things that you didn't have, to work harder for those things or to achieve them, then it makes sense that you would feel that more strongly for things that seem more attainable, right?

People who are a little more similar to you or have similar resources to you or a little closer to you, you go I'm going to get this extra motivation to go out and get that thing. That makes sense as opposed to someone who's just so far out of your reach that it's like, well, what's the evolutionary point of being really motivated to go after this thing that seems so far off in the future?

Dedeker: This is an interesting thing that they covered in the survey is bear in mind, this is not a survey that was about infidelity or non-monogamy but this question came up, and they specifically asked the men who were participating in the survey, if your female partner had sex with someone who's not you, and that person was a man, or that person was a woman which one do you feel more jealousy about? It was like 96% of the respondents yes thought that their female partner having sex with a man made them feel more jealous. Which if it doesn't sound familiar, it should because-

Emily: It's like a one penis policy.

Dedeker: Yes, well, that's usually what motivates one penis policy as I feel.

Emily: Absolutely. This can kind of be like an explanation for people out there who want to do one penis policies, but they don't think it's a good justification for it. That idea absolutely this has happened in relationships that I've had.

Dedeker: Wait. I'm so sorry to interrupt again because there was a second part to that question that I forgot. They did ask the one question of just basic man or woman which one makes you feel more jealous? They also asked a question of like, if your female partner, had sex with a woman and had a really incredible amazing pleasurable experience versus if she had sex with a man and had like an okay experience, they still found her having sex with a man was much more jealousy producing than her having this much better sexual experience with a woman.

Which, of course, we could go into a whole thing about how we feel about girls having sex with each other and whether or not female relationships are valid or not in society's eyes, we go into that whole thing. It's kind of like outside of that it really supports what we were saying earlier where they find it's not about what the actual end result is. It's like you're not jealous of her experience of her sex being great, like you're jealous of-

Emily: The penis.

Dedeker: Yes.

Emily: Just this idea that another person's penis could do things that my penis can't do and that therefore I'll feel emasculated or whatever. I think that that has come up in a lot of conversations that I've had with people over the years about dating men or women or people just being like yes I'm fine with my female partner having sex with other people who identify as women but not men. No, that I wouldn't be okay with.

Dedeker: Okay, but it often it isn't even that expansive of I'm comfortable with my female partner dating other people who identify as women? Often it's much more specific.

Jase: You're right.

Dedeker: I'm only okay if this other person has a vagina. I'm not okay, if this person has a penis, I don't care what their gender identity is.

Emily: Yes, you're absolutely right.

Jase: If I can kind of loop this back and relate it to the first sets of studies that we were talking about. This one here is talking about jealousy and envy. It's kind of asking questions trying to tease out what is it really about when we say we want what other people have or we want the happiness that other people have and kind of showing here them being more similar to us makes it more threatening that their happiness really has nothing to do with it. It's just them having access to something that we don't. If we look at the other studies about jealousy, which focus more on the type of jealousy that's like fear of losing a relationship.

We talked about with what would be an example like with your caregiver, giving attention to someone else like that kind of jealousy, or a romantic partner being interested in someone else, and showing that jealousy helped make this relationships last longer by reacting to those threats or driving you to react to those threats. That I think that people would make the argument like, well, that's what's happening here. It's not about whether she's having a good time with this other man or this other woman like or that she's having a much better time with this woman than with a man. It really comes down to this idea that I perceive the threat of this other man as a more real threat to losing my relationship.

In this case, I think it's not so much about gaining but it's still problematic in a similar way of saying, well, why is it that you are evaluating this person as like a real threat, whereas you're evaluating this woman as not a real threat. That does go back kind of in the same way to a lot of this very ingrained, very unexamined sexism that we have in our society that we're taught.

Emily: There's a lot of that just all over the place all over.

Dedeker: It's all over, it's like roadkill. Really kind of dodge it with your emotional car.

Jase: Well, I see we're bringing back the car. That's good.

Emily: With all of this, what are some takeaways? What can we gain and put in our emotional cars so that our emotional car is like the savviest awesomest, fastest.

Jase: Like better shocks.

Dedeker: More cylinders.

Jase: Make sure we clean out the carburetors, the fuel injectors. Change your alternators. I've had some of those go out on me.

Emily: There you go. It's always impressive to me that I don't like to change your own oil. You've changed my oil a couple of times.


Jase: Yes. It's important to change the oil on your emotional car. I had a friend in college, who her parents gave her a car to drive out to college and at no point in her life had they ever taught her how to take care of a car or the maintenance that needed to go into a car. She didn't know you had to get your oil changed because no one had taught her that.

Emily: Oh my God.

Jase: After like a year, her car just completely locked up and was totaled because she'd never put oil in it and never gotten it changed.

Emily: I need to get my oil changed.

Dedeker: That will double up now.

Jase: It's important to understand that at least a little bit about how your emotional car works so you could do some of these things.

Emily: So you don't lock up this up and are totaled.

Jase: Something that can actually be very helpful about these studies is just realizing that these things are happening inside of us and that we do have these tendencies. Like with a lot of psychological studies and things like that, people can get very discouraged by them because they'll learn about something like cognitive dissonance or about these studies about jealousy and be like, ''Well, fuck I'm damned to just do these terrible things and always have these assumptions.'' Rather than looking at this and going, "Okay, if I understand that these things that I do, probably naturally, have a tendency to react in these certain ways and it's probably coming from these certain things," that actually empowers you to be able to do stuff to change that through changing your thinking or through just kind of remembering that or becoming aware of it.

Emily: Yes, mindfulness.

Jase: Yes, the whole knowledge is power, the more you know. I think one thing that is really helpful is to remind yourself, and I found this to be really helpful for me, is to really remind yourself and just a check in of 'What is it that I actually want? What is it that does actually make me happy because maybe I'm experiencing jealousy right now over something that I don't even really want that much and I definitely don't want it enough to put in the effort to get it like someone else has.' And for me at least, a lot of the time, just having that realization really helps take the edge off. For example, if I have a partner who's going on a lot of first dates and I can feel jealous of that I can think about it and be like you know what, I don't really want to take time for that right now. That's not really what I'm looking for right now. Or maybe my partner is having a lot more of a certain type of sex with other people than I'm having and it like, "well, maybe that's actually not a kind of sex or I'm not really feeling like I'm lacking sex in my life," but I'm just feeling jealous that someone could get something that I don't think I can and just having that realization is so helpful.

Dedeker: Yes. I think learning about all of this and reading about all of this is just so fascinating and I think the main takeaway for me and that I would want to impart on other people, first of all, it's not wrong to feel jealousy. It's not wrong to feel these things. It's a thing. It's there for a reason. It's part of our nervous system. Again, it's part of this whole complicated system that is protecting us and it's okay that you feel something and your feeling are not necessarily facts. Just because you feel this way, you know, like in Jase's situation where it's like maybe you feel jealous that your partner's going on a bunch of first dates with a bunch of different people, that you don't have to jump straight to 'Oh that must mean that's what I want so I have to pursue that too.' Maybe after you examine it, you do realize, 'Hey actually it would be kind of fun to go on a first date so maybe I do feel motivated to put in the effort for that.' But maybe upon examination, you realize, ''Actually no, actually I'm kind of glad-

Emily: "I don't want that at all."

Jase: Yes.

Dedeker: -being able to have my time.' And so, it's okay. Just put a critical eye on your own feelings and on your own thoughts and that'll serve you.

Emily: Yes and when you're going through these emotions, understand that they're biological responses to a degree so you can thank your brain and your body and your nervous system for doing things that they were meant to do because again, your body is just trying to make sure that you're safe and even if it's not like putting a lot thought into why or if that's a valid concern at that present moment, it still is doing the thing that it's meant to do. It's okay from time to time, instead of getting angry at yourself like 'Ugh, why am I so pissed off right now.' Or 'Ugh, why am I so sad right now?' Or, 'Why do I feel jealousy.' Or whatever it is to be like, 'Hey, I'm having a biological response. It's going to be okay. Thank you body for doing that. I'm good, really. You can calm down but thank you for taking the time to do what it's meant to do.

Jase: Yes, I love that, just that it's not because you're broken it's just-

Emily: Something to learn over the years, for sure, I think for all of us.

Jase: Your body's just trying to take care of you. Just doing it's best. Your brain is trying to take care of you and it doesn't always do the best job of it but it's trying really hard and just, I think, just accepting that can be so good. And then, another one, this came up in one of the other studies here, is that there have been studies showing that our perceptions and our reactions to jealousy situations does really change depending on the status and the relationships between all the people involved and so, in these studies, they've shown children as young as 6 months old will express jealousy of their caregiver giving attention to someone else over them. That's part of the argument of well jealousy is this evolved thing which helps us to get the care and the connections that we need. What's interesting about it is they found that as early as four years old, we start changing our understanding of these threats. In the example here which is a '93 study by oh boy, [unintelligible 00:55:19].

Emily: Like pineapple.

Jase: I just took a stab at those two there. In this study, they found that as early as four years old, children will be less jealous of their caregiver giving attention to an infant than they are to someone else who is more of a peer. The idea being that by four years old, they have enough understanding that infants need more care than toddlers do. They understand they need that and so attention being given to them isn't going to be perceived with the same level of threat. And I think that if we take this knowledge to go like, look see, jealousy isn't something that's just fixed forever but as we learn more about other people in the world and other people in that situation and we broaden our understand like that infant has by the time they're four years old and then continuing on as they get older, that can actually change our experience of that jealousy. I can say from personal experience that has been the case for me in my relationships with my partner's other partners or them going on dates or having sex with people. At first, those things, even if I was intellectually okay with them, invoked a little bit more of an emotional, physical jealousy response or fear response or competitive response, something like that. As I've gotten to know non-monogamy better and I've gotten to know some of my partners better and also just had more experience and learned through experience-

Emily: Yourself better

Jase: Yes, knowing myself better and kind of seeing what things aren't actually the threats that I may have thought they were and that has changed the way I feel about that jealousy. It doesn't mean I never feel it but it's like the volume on that in certain situations is turned way down just because I have this different perspective. And I think that, for me, reading that thing about the four-year-olds I was like, 'Oh my gosh, yes.' We're all like those four-year-olds who are just having to learn what things aren't threats. It's not about learning what things are threats but learning what things aren't threats. I think that's a very powerful thing that we can take with us into our lives.

Dedeker: I like it. If a four-year-old can do it, we can all do it.

Emily: Yes, come on everyone.

Jase: So, we would love to hear from all of you, what your experience has been with this. Do you have things in your life that you were jealous of that you aren't now? What do you feel like changed for you about that? Or what kind of car is your jealousy? We would love to hear either one of those and the best place to do that, to share your thoughts with other listeners and with us is in the episode's discussion thread in our private Facebook group or in our Discord chat. You can get access to these groups and join our exclusive community by going to patreon.com/multiamory. In addition, you can share publicly on Twitter, Facebook or on Instagram. You can email us at info@multiamory.com, leave us a voicemail at 678-MULTI-05 or you can leave us a voice message on Facebook.

Multiamory is created and produced by Dedeker Winston, Emily Matlack and me Jase Lingren. Our episodes are edited Mauricio Bulveneta. Our social media wizard is Will Mcmillan. Our production assistant is Nicole Samra. Our theme song is Forms I Know I Did by Josh and Anand from The Fractal Cave EP. The full transcript is available on this episodes page on multiamory.com