Being cheated on sucks – no need for science to tell you that. And yet, scientists who study relationships can tell you precisely why cheating is downright awful. Research has shown it’s one of the most harmful things that can happen to a couple, and it’s the leading cause of divorce. When someone is cheated on, anxiety, anger, and self-doubt are all to be expected. And both the cheater and the betrayed partner are likely to become depressed.
Naturally, if you’ve ever thought your partner was cheating, you’ve wanted to confirm – or hopefully, reject – your suspicions; who knows, your worries might all be in your head, right?
No need to hire a private detective. Lucky for you, scientists have come up with a method to tell if your partner is cheating: your friends. People tend to be good judges of others’ behaviour, research has shown. Often all it takes is watching someone for a short amount of time to accurately intuit what that person is about.
So what about cheating? Can people detect a cheater just by looking at them? A team of US researchers took it upon themselves to find out. In two studies, they tracked down almost one hundred university students in relationships.
Spot the cheater
First of all, each student confidentially revealed to the researchers whether they’d cheated on their partner, emotionally or physically. Then the researchers brought the students and their partners into the lab and had each couple hang out and do a drawing activity that lasted three to five minutes that was filmed.
Next came the interesting bit: five outside observers watched the short videos to see if they could detect the cheaters. It turned out they could tell which students had cheated on their partners. And all it took was watching a short video clip of the couple hanging out.
Not to be trusted
What gave the cheaters away?
Something about their behaviour and how they interacted with their partners told the observers that cheating students were not trustworthy folk and that they weren’t committed to their partners.
So if you suspect your partner is cheating on you, asking what your friends think might not be a bad idea. If they’re suspicious of your partner, chances are good you have every reason to be too.
Reference: Lambert, N.M., Mulder, S. & Fincham, F. (2014). Thin slices of infidelity: Determining whether observers can pick out cheaters from a video clip interaction and what tips them off. Personal Relationships. (2014) 21:612-9.
Worried your partner could be cheating, and need someone to talk to? Why not start with our forum, Let’s Talk. Our moderators can help you with all your questions.