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SIRLOUIS, D. & BIRCHMEIER, Z. (2002). Are Men and Women Stereotyped Differently in Relationships?: an Examination of Infidelity.. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved December 9, 2022 .

Are Men and Women Stereotyped Differently in Relationships?: an Examination of Infidelity.

Sponsored by: ZACHARY BIRCHMEIER (birchmzp@muohio.edu)
The goal of this project was to determine whether different stereotypes exist when loyalty is in question for both men and women who are involved in a relationship. The study began with the question, "Do people`s perceptions of how loyal someone is in a relationship differ depending on whether the person in question is male or female." In an attempt to answer this question two versions of a short fictional scenario portraying infidelity was administered to 12 women and 8 men, followed by seven questions concerning the scenario. In one version, the protagonist character is male and in the other the character is female. Stereotypical responses emerged such that the male character was perceived to be more likely to cheat on the night in question, as well as on any given day. Participants also indicated they would be significantly more worried if they were dating the man than the woman.

It is well-documented that there are stereotypes placed on people depending upon what gender they are (Myers, 2001). Women are weak and allowed to cry, while men are strong and expected to conceal their emotion. Why do we stereotype people? One reason may be to provide a basis for understanding and predicting the behavior of others when information-processing demands are high (Bodenhausen & Wyer, 1985). Heterosexual women, heartbroken over their boyfriend`s cheating behavior, may be confronted with stereotypical discounting of their suffering from friends (e.g. "well, he is a guy"). Perhaps blaming infidelity on gender is just simpler than exploring the underlying problems in the relationship. Most people feel more positively about "women" in general than they do about "men" because they are stereotyped to have certain preferred interpersonal traits, including conscientiousness (Myers, 2001). As these traits are typically perceived as being less prevalent in males, it may be inferred that men would be more readily viewed as cheaters in relationships.The goal of this study was to discover if men and women are commonly stereotyped in relationships, particularly whether there are obvious differences in perceptions of loyalty. A story was composed, one in which the main character was Brian and one in which the main character was Katie, and copies of each version were administered to both male and female participants. Dependent measures assessed the initial hypothesis that men would be perceived as less loyal and therefore more likely to cheat when the option presents itself.

Participants Surveys were distributed to a convenience sample of 20 participants from a small, Midwestern, liberal arts college. Participants were recruited at the student union, providing a passably representative pool. Eight men and twelve women responded to the dependent measures. The mean age of the entire sample was 19.8 (mean for males = 19.5 and mean for females = 20). The student body at the sampled institution is predominantly white.Materials The protagonist in the passage was presented in as either Brian or Katie. The scenario is as follows:`Brian/Katie is getting ready to go out on Friday night. Because of an argument with his/her significant other earlier in the week, Brian/Katie just needs to go out and have fun. While getting ready Brian/Katie is drinking and by the time the group departs he/she is definitely ready to party. When they arrive at the party, Brian/Katie begins talking to a very attractive girl/guy who seems to be very interested in him/her.` This was followed by seven questions to be answered. Questions asked participants to rate the character`s decision-making skills and likelihood of cheating, both in general and on the night in question. Participants were also asked to give a rating of how worried they would be if they were the significant other of the character. Procedure Students at Shriver Center were conveniently asked if they would be interested in participating in a survey for a statistics laboratory project. Those who chose to participate were given one version of the materials and asked to complete them. Respondents were then debriefed and thanked.

Independent-groups t-tests were used to determine significance of mean differences between groups. Participants rated Katie`s decision making skills, both that particular night and in general, as being significantly better than Brian`s, p < .002 (see Figure 1 for means). Brian was also perceived to be more likely to cheat on the night in question, as well as on any given day, p < .001 (see Figure 2). Participants also indicated they would be significantly more worried if they were dating Brian (M = 7.9) than Katie (M = 4.8), p < .001.

Figure 1

Figure 2

The results of the study show that there is an existing stereotype concerning between-gender differences in loyalty when involved in a relationship. Could it be that these "sex differences", with regard to how we perceive infidelity, date back to the dawn of time? From an evolutionary perspective, males and females are expected to have very different mating styles. Males are expected to "spread their seed" in order to ensure that their genetic makeup persists, females on the other hand are expected to be selective about mates due to the large input of energy and time that reproduction requires. From the beginning it has been the case that, "men seek to reproduce widely, women wisely" (Myers, 2001, 187). Contemporaneously, there is a possibility that men are perceived as less loyal simply because men, themselves, are more accepting of infidelity. A study conducted at Indiana University examined attitudes about dating and marital infidelity (Shepard, Nelson & Andreoli-Mathie, 1995). It was reported that men rated infidelity as more acceptable in both dating and marital relationships. Constructing theoretical accounts of infidelity is complex task given the great number of factors contributing to evaluations of infidelity, including perceived attributions of the behavior. Some of these potential motives, such as intent and revenge, have been explored in a study conducted by Paul Mongeau and others in the communications department at Miami University. The study found differences in how intent and revenge were perceived by males and females (Mongeau, Hale & Alles, 1994). Future research may examine these potential influences when inquiring as to which gender may be looked down upon more for cheating.

Bodenhausen, G.V., & Wyer, R.S., Jr. (1985). Effects of stereotypes on decision making and information- processing strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 267-282.

Myers, D. G. (2001). Social Psychology. McGraw-Hill.Mongeau, P. A., Hale, J. L., Alles, M. (1994). An experimental investigation of accounts and attributions following sexual infidelity. Communication Monographs, 61(4), 326-344.

Sheppard, V. J., Nelson, E. S., Andreoli-Mathie, V. (1995). Dating relationships and infidelity: Attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 21(3), 202-212.

Submitted 7/9/2002 7:43:45 PM
Last Edited 7/9/2002 7:51:55 PM
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