Jealousy can produce a range of emotions in a person, especially if the jealousy is sparked by a significant other's interactions with another person. Some people even change their appearance, or actions, in an attempt to catch their partner's attention, but while they think they're doing this voluntarily, the underlying mechanisms in this process are much more psychological - they're actually starting to view themselves relative to their rivals.

"A rival isn't someone that individuals should like, let alone want to affiliate with," Erica Slotter, of Villanova University, said in a news release. "This work was really novel in that we were looking at whether individuals would be willing to shift their self-views to be more similar to a romantic rival."

Slotter conducted three experiments in her study to see what happens to people when they become jealous, and if these people would change their views about themselves if they felt their partners were interested in another person.

"This meant that individuals should not change their self-views if someone flirts with their partner, but the partner doesn't respond with interest," Slotter said.

Slotter surveyed 144 heterosexual couples about their personal attributes, including artistic, musical or athletic ability. Then the couples were given scenarios in which they had to imagine their partners expressing interest in someone else or showing no interest whatsoever.

One of these scenarios portrayed the couple walking through a shopping mall when an attractive individual walks by. One of the partners would have to imagine the other saying, "Did you see that guy/girl? That shirt looked really hot on him/her." Another scenario portrayed the same situation, but this time, a partner asks, "Don't you have that shirt? It looks much better on you than on him/her."

The couples had to report how jealous they felt from these imagined scenarios, and then they were given a personality profile of the potential rival. Each of the profiles had one attribute from the beginning of the study that the couples reported wasn't true of their personality. After seeing these profiles, the couples were then asked to re-rate their own personalities.

"Individuals who thought their romantic partner was interested in someone who was athletic or musically inclined reported themselves as more athletic or musically inclined at the end of the study than they had at the beginning," Slotter said.

The couples explicitly and implicitly perceived themselves to be more like their rivals, even incorporating these characteristics into their own self-views.

But to make sure these results were accurate, and that the couples weren't intentionally changing their results, the researchers measured reaction times in the couple's assessments, and found that they took longer to assess themselves.

"We feel confident concluding that individuals in our study really were thinking about themselves in a particular way to the experimenter," Slotter said.

Slotter's team is interested in continuing to explore the effects of jealousy on relationships, and on people's health.

"If we change ourselves to keep a partner with a wandering eye, could this impact us negatively? We don't know," she said.


Slotter, E, Lucas G, Jakubiak B, et al. Changing Me to Keep You: State Jealousy Promotes Perceiving Similarity Between the Self and a Romantic Rival. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2013.