New study sheds light on how cheating men reduce cognitive dissonance after committing infidelity

Research published in the Journal of social and personal relationships examines the thought processes that comfort perpetrators of infidelity. The study provides new insights into how men who cheat frame their experience to reduce their own feelings of discomfort.

“In the past, when I wrote these research papers on infidelity, it was normal to discuss the feelings of guilt and shame that cheaters often report,” explained researcher Cassandra Alexopoulos, an assistant professor at the University. from Massachusetts to Boston. “I became very interested in the process of rationalizing a behavior to the extent that one would be willing to repeat that behavior over and over again.”

For his study, Alexopoulos surveyed 1,514 male users of Ashley Madison, a dating site for those looking to engage in infidelity. The participants were all married or in a romantic relationship, and did not have a consensual non-monogamous arrangement with their significant other. A total of 425 participants responded to a follow-up survey one month later.

Participants reported how often they engaged in various online and face-to-face behaviors with someone other than their primary romantic partner. They were also asked about their use of strategies to reduce cognitive dissonance, such as trivializing infidelity or denying responsibility for their behavior. Additionally, they reported their attitudes toward infidelity and whether infidelity had changed the way they perceived themselves.

Alexopoulos found that greater engagement in online infidelity was associated with more tolerant attitudes toward infidelity and positive changes in self-concept. “Attitude change and self-concept change, relative to the other strategies included in the current study, may function as a dissociative tactic for perpetrators of infidelity who struggle with psychological discomfort,” said she writes in her study.

“Specifically, altering his view of infidelity (e.g., ‘Being unfaithful never hurt anyone’) and his view of self (e.g., ‘I feel invigorated for the first time in a long time’ , ‘This me is the real me’) can allow the perpetrator of online infidelity to separate their online self from their offline self.

Contrary to expectations, greater infidelity was associated with reduced trivialization and reduced denial of responsibility. “For denial and trivialization to be effective and logical in the mind of the abuser, the strategies are likely to be used after committing a one-time transgression (e.g., ‘I didn’t want this to happen’, “What I did was wrong, but that doesn’t say anything about me as a person’),” explained Alexopoulos. “Once the abuser has engaged with many partners or cheated multiple times with a single partner, the strategy of denying his intention to cheat may become unreasonable.”

Change in self-concept, on the other hand, was positively related to face-to-face infidelity. “The data suggests that, as a means of justifying your own behavior, self-concept change is the only strategy people find helpful in getting to the point of engaging in offline infidelity,” Alexopoulos told PsyPost. . “Furthermore, this strategy was also associated with lower levels of negative outcomes. In other words, saying to yourself, for example, “This new relationship makes me more exciting or fun”, seems to allow cheaters to reduce their feelings of discomfort.

Alexopoulos noted that future research could collect additional data on cognitive states associated with infidelity. “I think a natural follow-up to this project would be in-depth qualitative interviews to get a better picture of how infidelity perpetrators train through online and offline infidelity behaviors,” he said. -she explains. “This could potentially be useful in helping individuals mitigate future infidelity, or helping people who have cheated and their partners through the process of relationship repair.”

“One thing I want to be clear is that, from a personal perspective, I do not condone the act of violating the boundaries of a relationship that have been set by everyone involved,” added Alexopoulos. “Relationships come in all shapes and sizes, so what I’m all about is people finding the right relationship that’s right for them.”

The study, “Justifying My Love: Reducing Cognitive Dissonance in Online and Offline Infidelity Perpetrators,” was published August 12, 2021.

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