Cheated-On Personalities

Ron Guhname took a dataset of ~1500 people, and predicted which people said their spouse cheated on them from the victim’s five-factor personality, as well as his or her age, social class, religiosity, and body mass index. He found less cheating on religious people, on older and less agreeable men, and on conscientious and closed-to-experience women. These personality effects are much bigger than the religion effect!

More on agreeableness:

Agreeableness is a tendency to be pleasant and accommodating in social situations. … empathetic, considerate, friendly, generous, and helpful. … believe that most people are honest, decent, and trustworthy. People scoring low … may … be suspicious and unfriendly. … Agreeableness [has a] positive association with altruism and helping behavior. … In the United States, midwesterners and southerners tend to have higher average scores on agreeableness than people living in other regions.

More on openness:

Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity. … Closed to experience … [people] tend to be conventional and traditional in their outlook and behavior. They prefer familiar routines … [and] have a narrower range of interests. … Openness to experience correlates with creativity … [and] crystallized intelligence, but not fluid intelligence. … People who are highly open to experience tend to be politically liberal and tolerant of diversity. As a consequence, they are generally more open to different cultures and lifestyles. They are lower in ethnocentrism. … People living in the eastern and western parts of the United States tend to score higher on openness to experience than those living in the midwest and the south.

I am puzzled by many things here. It makes sense that older people are better able to detect cheating, but then why doesn’t this effect work for women? It makes sense that suspicious people are cheated on less, but then why no agreeable effect for women. It makes sense that conscientious people are cheated on less, as they should be more careful in watching for cheating. But why no such effect for men? Could all women be suspicious enough, and all men conscientious enough?

And what is going on with openness, and why does it only influence women? Open vs. closed personality seems to correlate both with more of a forager than farmer mentality (art, travel, rich, liberal, intellectual, female promiscuity), and also with more of a far than a near mental mode (creative, larger social groupings). Makes me wonder how much forager mentality and far mode correlate.

Added 3p: I read that chart way wrong! Sorry – have edited the above greatly to correct my error.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as: , , , ,
Trackback URL:
  • Yet sex is near.

  • Chris Johnston

    You might find this study relevant to your question…(chronic) regulatory focus is related to these psychological traits.

  • Matt

    “… and more cheating on those who rate high on the “open to experience” personality trait. The openness effect is bigger than the religion effect!”

    Your presentation of his results neglects the large sex differences he describes and so is a little misleading I think. “Openness to experience” does not correlate with being cheated on for men (.01, not statistically significant) but does so quite strongly (.43, statistically significant) for women. Religiosity on the other hand is significantly negatively correlated for both sexes.

    • Another Matt

      Your presentation of his results neglects the large sex differences he describes and so is a little misleading I think.

      Yes, agreeableness for men demonstrates the same relationship in the sex split data as the relationship you have described for women.

      On explaining the female data:

      One tack:

      Openness to Experience seems to mainly be a proxy for artistic engagement and heightened xenophilia (at least on the batteries I’ve seen, which seem heavy on aesthetic questions and light on, say, interest in scientific problems). Possibly Openness to Experience tracks decreased vigilence towards new people in a way that agreeableness doesn’t, and this explains the correlation.

      Another (perhaps more convincing tack):

      My understanding of art, in human history is that it does not so much track forager vs farmer as male investment in provisioning, wherein as male provisioning investment decreases mating competition increases, and art increases primarily as a continuation of mating competition by other means.

      See – – Harpending’s description of how:

      Gaudy decorative art and technology mark cad (term using for relative low male provisioning investment) societies. We think immediately of the body paint and the feather bonnets and such of Plains Indians, the masks and totem poles of the US Northwest Coast, the elaborate costumes and masks of New Guinea or of West Africa, and so on….

      HCH has spent many years with !Kung Bushmen in southern Africa. It is fun to imagine how they would react to, say, a totem pole from the US northwest coast. They would have a good laugh, then chop it up as the well dried firewood that it would be….”

      Of course, this tracks farmer vs forager insofar as the farmer societies we are familiar with (those of Eurasia, North Africa and even to an extent native America) tend to have relatively high male paternal investment to mate competition, but as the comparison of farmer West Africa to forager !Kung shows, not by logical necessity.

      So perhaps the relationship would instead go “Women who are more arty (open to experience) pick more arty male partners or partners in from a more arty mileu who cheat more often because being having a promiscuous mating strategy is (from an evolutionary perspective) the whole point of being arty or of an arty society”.

  • one angle: farmers need new ideas less than foragers (more stable environment), so have smaller need for novelty. less need for novelty = less openness.

  • nw

    I question the premise openness correlates with crystal intelligence, not fluid.

    I define crystal intelligence is accumulated knowledge whereas fluid intelligence is “think on the fly”.

    Young people have massive amounts of fluid intelligence, as it declines with age, but are also the most open to experience and relatively liberal. This might be coincidence as openness to experience and liberalism both decline with age.

    Maybe we should say people with crystal intelligence were open to experience in the past, as you need time and experience to accumulate knowledge.

    It just seems like farming hasn’t changed much, whereas trendy city living is always changing. The former lends itself to crystal and the latter to fluid.

  • Marty

    took a look at the blog you got this from and posted the same comment there too. (
    I submit that the warrant actually tests the likeliness for the partner to know about his/her spouse having cheated. Not the likeliness to have been cheated on! The results are far less surprising that way too.

    • Yes. Coincidentally, openness as a personality trait correlates positively with false recognition/false recall tasks, an assay for false memory formation.

      The portrait of false-memory-formers in one study reads like a parody of Hanson’s foragers (Barnum effect?):

      “Individuals with particular combinations of personality characteristics and cognitive abilities (i.e., low fear of negative evaluation, low harm avoidance, high cooperativeness, high reward dependence, and high self-directedness in combination with relatively low cognitive abilities) were more vulnerable to the misinformation effect.”

  • Matthew W. Fuller

    Maybe since women are somewhat more neurotic than men, women tend to prefer agreeable men to calm them down.

  • Serban Tanasa

    “The MIDUS Study asked respondents if their spouse had ever been unfaithful.”

    So this is all self-reported. Maybe, just maybe that might introduce a teensy bit of bias into the results?

  • Wait. I’ve got it. Roissy explains it. Agreeableness in a male = beta behavior. Women are more likely to cheat on a man who behaves in an agreeable (less masculine) manner.

    An open, artistic soul is also beta in a man.

    • IVV

      Not if you’re a rock star.

      Of course, if you view alpha as dom-only, then the rock stars, being alpha cads, don’t seem alpha. But they are.

    • there’s a theory that openness is a product of sexual selection–women liked men who were artsy. you can also be open and disagreeable…arguably roissy is.

      • Good point. And now that I reread the post I see that only agreeableness not openness correlates with being cheated on for men.

  • Khoth

    I don’t know if it’s the case here, but often when someone’s correlating a bunch of traits with something, and there’s mysteriously a statistically significant effect in some subgroup, it just means it’s an artefact of the analysis.

    He reports 18 things, so it would be totally unsurprising if at least one of the statistically significant things actually isn’t true.

  • John Maxwell IV

    Is it possible that, say, the closed-to-experience women didn’t report being cheated on because they didn’t know about it?

    • Douglas Knight

      That explanation doesn’t seem to distinguish the sexes.

  • Open-to-experience boys marry open-to-experience girls. Experience includes adultery. Therefore open-to-adultery boys marry open-to-adultery girls.

  • A.

    It would be interesting to see which of these are due to the cheater or the cheatee. Religious people are cheated on less – OK, but is this because they are better at detecting cheating or because they are more likely to be married to other religious people, who are less likely to cheat?

  • Pingback: Simoleon Sense » Blog Archive » Weekly Roundup 134: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web()

  • Pingback: Overcoming Bias : Who Cheats()