What Types of People Don’t Cheat on Their Partners?

Why people don’t cheat.

Posted Jul 27, 2020

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man and woman in bed
Source: altafulla/shutterstock

Various articles have sought to explain and rationalise why people might cheat on their partners: for example, lack of attention, the opportunity to cheat, or a desire on one side for more passion. However, we have seen far less on the reasons people don’t cheat. 

So, what exactly is it that makes people less likely to cheat on their partners? Is it simply because they are satisfied in their current relationship, or are they merely deterred by the risks associated with cheating? Are there certain types of people who are less likely to cheat and if so, who are they?

In order to investigate these questions, Menelaos Apostolou and Rafaella Panayiotou from the University of Nicosia conducted interviews with people and discussed with them the reasons that hold them back from cheating on their current partner or the reasons which were likely to stop them cheating on their partner at any time in the future. From the interviews, the researchers extracted 47 reasons people reported as preventing them from cheating on their partners, which the researchers grouped into 8 broader categories as follows.

  • I am satisfied with my relationship. Partner treats me well. I love my partner.
  • Feel guilty. Do not consider it right. Would feel ashamed.
  • Fear that it will happen to me. Would not like it. Fear my partner will do the same.
  • Have not been provoked. Fear I will enjoy it and be tempted to do it again. Not met someone attractive enough.
  • Fear of my partner's reaction. Fear that my partner will react violently.
  • Feel ashamed if it gets out. Not compatible with religion.
  • I do not want to get in trouble. Fear the reaction of my partner's parents. Regret.
  • Social stigma. Worry what people would think. Would not like people to know.

Following this, the researchers then asked 576 participants to report how likely it would be that each of the reasons given above would deter them from cheating on their partners now or at any time in the future. Responses were recorded from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The higher the score, the more agreement with the reason for not cheating. 

Participants also completed a scale that measured the personality characteristics openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. People who score high on openness are described as being curious, imaginative, excitable, and unconventional. Those high on conscientiousness are characterised by being organised, efficient, competent, and self-disciplined, whereas agreeableness is characterised by being trusting and forgiving, altruistic, and modest.

Reasons for not cheating

The researchers then assessed which reason was the most likely to deter cheating behaviour. They found that "I am satisfied with my relationship" to be the most highly reported reason, which suggests that most participants were having a good time with their current partners. The next most highly reported reason as to why people don’t cheat was that they said it would make them feel ashamed or guilty. Each of these reasons reflects relationship benefits; in other words, people report not cheating because they are happy and dedicated to their current partners.

Which types of people don’t cheat?

The researchers next set about looking at the reasons why certain types of people didn’t cheat. In terms of gender differences, they found that women reported higher scores than men for "I am satisfied with my relationship" and feeling guilty as a reason for not cheating on their partners. In other words, these were given as more important reasons for women not cheating on their partners, compared to men not cheating on their partners.

In terms of personality style, those who were scored high on openness expressed fear that it would happen to them as a reason they wouldn’t cheat on their partners, compared to those who scored low on openness. However, those with lower openness scores reported not being provoked to be a reason for them not cheating on their partner compared to those with high openness scores. 

The researchers also found that people who were high on conscientious reported that being satisfied with their relationship, feeling guilty, fear that this would happen to them, and feeling ashamed if it got out as reasons deterring them from cheating, compared to those who were lower on conscientious.

Agreeableness interacted with gender such that, when participants’ agreeableness levels were low, men’s, but not women’s, scores decreased for both the "I am satisfied with my relationship" and the feeling guilty reasons for not cheating, meaning that they were less likely to cite this as a reason for not cheating. In other words, levels of agreeableness affected men’s, but not women’s, scores on these reasons.

Benefits and costs

The researchers next combined the eight reasons above into type broader categories representing either the benefits or the costs associated with not cheating or cheating. The benefits category comprised of "I am satisfied with my relationship" and feel guilty, whereas the costs category comprised of all of the other reasons. 

They found a difference between men and women for the benefits category, with women citing benefits of their relationship as a reason for not cheating far more than men. However, there was no difference between men and women for the costs category. Furthermore, for the benefits category, they found that as conscientiousness decreased, then men’s, but not women’s, likelihood of not cheating decreased. In other words, low conscientiousness affected men’s, but not women’s, likelihood of cheating.

Previous research generally suggests that people are less likely not to cheat if they are in a good relationship and the costs of discovery are high, and more likely to cheat if they are in a poor relationship where the cost of discovery is low. For men, cheating and mating with numerous women affords the opportunity to produce more offspring in a given time, which is not the case for women, and this may well explain gender differences in willingness to cheat.

The message

In summary, the findings from this study suggest those less likely to cheat are women who are high in conscientiousness and low in openness. Whereas, those more likely to cheat are men who score low in conscientiousness and high in openness. 

However, other factors such as relationship quality, context, and the relative chances and costs of discovery also need to be considered. Furthermore, the average age of participants in this study was around 33 and it is possible that surveying other age groups who have been in relationships for different lengths of time, may yield different results. Therefore, while the findings provide some insight on who is less likely to cheat based on personality variables, the relative impact of other factors also needs consideration.

References

Apostolou, M. &  Panayiotou, R. (2019) ‘The reasons that prevent people from cheating on their partners: An evolutionary account of the propensity not to cheat’ Personality and Individual Differences, 146, 34-40.