Spotting the Cheater

A study out of Florida State University supports the notion that some people can detect infidelity at first glance, but others stay in relationships for years and don’t see what is hidden in plain sight.

Strangers were able to identify the cheaters accurately - “far better than chance would allow.”

Strangers were able to identify the cheaters accurately – “far better than chance would allow.”

“People can determine whether complete strangers were cheaters or non-cheaters by simply watching them interact for a short period of time,” says lead author Dr. Nathaniel Lambert, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life.

In the study, 51 undergraduates each completed a questionnaire asking them about their own relationship, particularly if any physical or emotional infidelity had occurred. Then they were put together with their significant other, and a short video was taken of them interacting with their partner. Six strangers then watched the video and ventured how likely it was that each student would be unfaithful. The student’s self-reported cheating correlated with the stranger’s evaluations, according to researchers. The experiment was repeated with 43 couples and five strangers, and again the strangers were able to identify the cheaters accurately – “far better than chance would allow.”

More research is needed to determine what caused the strangers to suspect infidelity. But study co-author Dr. Frank Fincham, director of Florida State University’s Family Institute, offered an explanation as to why humans have this surprising ability.

“Possibly because it confers an evolutionary advantage,” said.  In other words, the ability to spot infidelity ensures that people don’t spend time and energy raising offspring that aren’t our own.

The study was published online in the journal Personal Relationships on September 18, 2014.

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