Carnal Clues: Seeing Green
Your body in jealousy mode.
By Katherine Schreiber published March 13, 2012 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
Catch a whiff of mystery musk on your lover's jacket and your stomach feels as if it's in free fall. Hear your competitor's gloating acceptance speech and your heart pounds. Watch a confident pal steal your crush and your hands suddenly start trembling. In case you missed the memo from Zeus' wife, jealousy is no simple emotion. Here's what happens as we morph into green-eyed monsters. —Katherine Schreiber
Imagine your partner in bed with a new lover or compare your résumé to that of a longtime rival and your amygdala, insula, and anterior cingulate cortex—the neural nodes of fear, anger, and disgust—swing into high gear, explains neuroscientist Hidehiko Takahashi of Kyoto University. Courtesy of the anterior cingulate cortex, social pain is experienced much the same way as physical pain.
Overhear your boss praise the company's new wunderkind and your lunch looks a whole lot less delicious. The threat of a challenger who could leave you jobless—or single—activates a fear reaction in the amygdala, triggering the fight-or-flight response that ramps up production of adrenaline and noradrenaline, explains Frank John Ninivaggi, a psychiatrist at Yale's Child Study Center. One result? No more appetite.
Constantly worried that your wife might not be faithful? You'll find yourself staring down potential rivals—especially attractive ones. People who are consistently jealous of a possibly philandering partner pay close attention to any good-looking members of their own sex and form strong memories of what they look like, according to recent research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The sympathetic nervous system buckles under the stress of jealousy, quickening the heart and spiking blood pressure, says Jonathan Dvash, a neuroscientist at the University of Haifa. If you find yourself having chest pains, avoid hotshot interns, the man who married your true love, and travel blogs about the life you wish you had.