Running head: EFFCTS OF RELATIONSHIP PUBLICITY ON INFIDELITY AND COMMITMENT 1
Perceived Publicity of Romantic Relationships: Effects on Attitudes towards
Infidelity, Probability of Engaging in Infidelity, and Commitment.
Date submitted: 18/03/2013
PSY320H5 Attitudes EFFCTS OF RELATIONSHIP PUBLICITY ON INFIDELITY AND COMMITMENT 2
Infidelity is commonly defined as any sexual or emotional ties that an individual has
outside of a romantic relationship where both partners have agreed to remain exclusive to each
other. In the literature, it is also referred to as extradyadic involvement. Extradyadic involvement
(EDI) appears to be a fairly common problem in today’s society; some studies have found that up
to 60% of men and 50% of women have been unfaithful to their partner at some point in their
serious relationship or marriage (Hackathorn, Mattingly, Clark, & Mattingly, 2011). Even though
extradyadic involvement seems to be increasingly more prevalent, it does not seem to be
perceived as acceptable by a majority of people (Sampat, 2005). It is important to understand
predictors of dating infidelity because it can lead to jealousy, low self-esteem and in some cases
to dissolution of the relationship. Understanding predictors for dating and marriage infidelity can
help marriage and relationship counsellors better serve their clients.
A person’s attitude towards infidelity can be an important predictor of their probability of
having an EDI. A major complication in measuring individuals’ attitudes about infidelity is that
its definition varies from person to person. For example, one person may view ambiguous acts
such as going to see a movie with an extradyadic partner as infidelity while others will not.
However, people generally agree that explicit flirting and fantasizing about and having sexual
relationships with extradyadic partners are more concrete forms of infidelity (Hackathorn et al,
2011). Extradyadic permissiveness (an accepting attitude towards EDI) has been found to be the
best predictor of infidelity, but for males more so than for females (Oikle, 2002; Sheppard,
Nelson & Andreoli-Mathie, 1995). Sociosexual orientation- which is defined as an individual’s
willingness to participate in non-committed sexual interactions- also seems to be a consistent
predictor; People who have a permissive sociosexual orientation are more likely to engage in EFFCTS OF RELATIONSHIP PUBLICITY ON INFIDELITY AND COMMITMENT 3
infidelity (Hackathorn et al, 2011). It is not very surprising that low relationship satisfaction and
commitment are also linked to increased unfaithfulness. In a longitudinal study, Jennifer Oikle
(2002) found that individuals who reported lower relationship commitment and who had more
permissive attitudes towards EDI at Time 1 were more likely to be unfaithful to their partner at
Time 2. Other studies have found that people who cheat do so regardless of the level of
satisfaction in their relationship, but they’re less likely to cheat if they have felt committed to the
relationship for a long time (Dabrowski, 2009).
Interestingly, no previous research has explored the effect of relationship publicity on
cheating behavior, satisfaction and commitment. Relationship publicity can be defined as the
extent to which individuals acknowledge to others that they’re in a relationship with someone.
For example, listing your relationship status on Facebook as “in a relationship with (partner
name)” can be considered making a relationship public. Relationship publicity could affect how
individuals perceive their relationship, as well as their attitudes about cheating and level of
commitment in the relationship. In light of the concept of social desirability, it is likely that
having a more public and committed relationship reduces cheating behavior and increases
negative attitude towards cheating, in an attempt to be seen positively by others.
The present study will explore individuals’ attitudes towards 3 types of infidelity-
ambiguous, explicit and implicit infidelity- before and after their relationship has experienced an
increase in publicity. Perception of ambiguous infidelity varies greatly from person to person.
These are behaviors such hugging/cuddling, excessive texting/chatting with and going to see a
movie with an extradyadic partner (Hackathorn et al, 2011). Explicit infidelity constitutes
engaging in sexual relations such as kissing, petting, and intercourse with someone other than the
exclusive partner (Hackathorn et al, 2011). Implicit infidelity can be defined as a prelude to EFFCTS OF RELATIONSHIP PUBLICITY ON INFIDELITY AND COMMITMENT 4
infidelity, or “one-sided cheating”. It constitutes behaviours such as fantasizing about, and
excessively looking at extradyadic partners. It would be interesting to explore if people generally
view these milder and more implicit behaviors as cheating or not.
Currently, no experimental studies related to relationship infidelity have been published
in the literature. However, there is some experimental research on cheating in tests and games. In
one study it was found that participants who believed they were treated unfairly in a previous
game were more likely to cheat during a subsequent unrelated game (Houser, Vetter, Winter,
2012). It has also been found that poor performers cheat more under competition, which may be
an attempt to retain a chance of winning (Schwieren & Weichselbaumer, 2010). These other
types of cheating are not similar to relationship infidelity in that they do not involve
interpersonal interactions and their motives are more focused towards bettering one’s
circumstances, whereas motives or for infidelity can vary greatly. For the purpose of this study
proposal, it would be more advantageous to focus on the correlational studies on dating
relationships and infidelity.
Individuals who have their relationship made more public at Time 1 (experimental group):
would experience an increase in perceived relationship publicity and an increase in
relationship commitment at Time 2. They would also perceive infidelity more negatively, and
be less likely to engage in infidelity behavior at Time 2.
Most participants will perceive explicit infidelity more negatively than the other two types.
Also, at Time 2, individuals in the experimental group will perceive explicit infidelity more
negatively than those in the control group. EFFCTS OF RELATIONSHIP PUBLICITY ON INFIDELITY AND COMMITMENT 5
Participants: The participants of this study would ideally be about 200 (100 male, 100
female) first-year psychology students at UTM. The opportunity to participate in the study would
be posted on the PSY100 experiment database and participants would sign up for the experiment
with their partner. In order to participate in the study, individuals must currently be in a
heterosexual relationship where both partners are expected to be exclusive to each other, and
they must actively use a Facebook account (checking Facebook at least once a day). No married
individuals will be included in this study.
Materials: Time 1 Questionnaire. This Questionnaire will include an attitude scale which
will measure attitudes towards cheating, as well as relationship commitment. Participants would
also indicate their gender and duration of the current relationship. The attitude scale will be in
the format of 3 sentence cheating scenarios which participants will rate on a 5-point scale from -
2 (completely unacceptable) to 0 (neutral) to +2 (completely acceptable). There will be 3
different types of scenarios: ambiguous, implicit and explicit cheating. An example of
ambiguous cheating scenario would be “Tim’s girlfriend Lindy was away vacation for 3 months.
He felt very lonely and bored without her. He decided to text his ex-girlfriend to ask if she would
like to go and see a movie with him. What do you think about Tim’s behavior?” (Please refer to
appendix 3 for examples of implicit and explicit cheating scenarios). In each scenario the second
sentence would provide an excuse for the cheating behavior so that the participant will be
required to think before they respond (to prevent automatically responding on negative
extremes). There will be 18 scenarios in total; in half of the scenarios the unfaithful partner will
be male, and the other half female. There will be an equal number of ambiguous, implicit and
explicit cheating scenarios (3 each) for the unfaithful male group and female group (Appendix EFFCTS OF RELATIONSHIP PUBLICITY ON INFIDELITY AND COMMITMENT 6
1). Filler scenarios unrelated to infidelity will be included to prevent participants from guessing
the hypotheses of the study. An example of filler scenario: “Jenna was mad at her boyfriend Curt
for not paying attention to her all day. She refused to sleep with him that night”. Relationship
commitment will be measured using a 4-item scale created by Oikle (2002). Participants rate
their response on a 7-point scale from “strongly disagree” (1) to “strongly agree” (7) to
statements such as “I may not want to be with my partner a few years from now” Also, a one-
item scale would measure participants’ perceived publicity of their relationship (Appendix 2).
Photo-shoot. A talented photographer or research assistant and photography equipment
such as lighting and cameras would be needed. A talented make-up and hair artist or RA would
be needed to prepare the couple since it is a surprise photo-shoot. Costumes might also be
needed in case participants refuse to pose with the clothes they’re wearing. Also, a fake
Facebook page representing the photographer and his/her work would have to be created.
Online Time 2 Questionnaire. The Time 2 questionnaire will consist of the same attitude,
commitment, and perceived publicity scales used at Time 1 and additionally an infidelity
behavior scale. The infidelity behavior scale will ask the participants to indicate how often
(within the past month) they engaged in the same 18 cheating/pre-cheating behaviors given in the
attitude scale at Time 1. For example, one question measuring ambiguous cheating behavior
would be “How often did you go to see a movie alone with person of the opposite sex (other than
your committed partner)?”, and for implicit cheating behavior: “How often did you spend more
than an hour looking at photos of potential partners (other than your current partner)?”; And to
measure explicit cheating: “How often did you have sexual intercourse with someone other than
your exclusive partner?” Participants would rate their response on a 4-point scale from “never” EFFCTS OF RELATIONSHIP PUBLICITY ON INFIDELITY AND COMMITMENT 7
(1), “once” (2), “two to three times” (3) and “four or more times” (4). A participant’s score on
this scale would be the sum of all ratings.
Procedure: Initial Session. At Time 1, participants would come into the experiment with
their partner and take the Time 1 questionnaire (Appendix 3). The two partners will take the
questionnaire in different rooms so that the immediate presence of each other will not influence
their responses. After the questionnaire, the couple would be given a casual 20-minute photo-
shoot as a surprise gift (Appendix 4). Presenting this component of the study as a “gift” would
make them more likely to consent to take part in it. The participants would be made to believe
that this is a promotion for a private photography business unrelated to the study. Participants in
the experimental group will be asked to sign a consent form for their pictures to be posted on the
photography page, and they will be told that people on their Facebo