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Often called the "green-eyed monster," jealousy has been a literary theme for centuries. However, it was not until the 1970s that jealousy became the focus of systematic, social science research.

Most contemporary conceptualizations of jealousy define it by focusing on situational antecedents. This makes it possible to distinguish jealousy from envy because different situations evoke them. Jealousy is precipitated by a threat from an agent to a person's relationship with someone, whereas envy is a negative reaction that is precipitated when someone else has a relationship to a person or object (Bringle and Buunk 1985).

Distinguishing between jealousy and envy does not mean they cannot occur in the same situation; they can. However, the overlapping occurrence of the two phenomena does not suggest that one can be reduced to the other.

Jealousy is best viewed as a compound emotion resulting from the situational labeling of one or more of the primary emotions such as fear or anger. Society teaches us to label the primary emotions we experience in specific situations that threaten significant relationships as jealousy. In other words, the primary emotion words such as anger and fear describe the emotional state, whereas the compound emotion word jealousy explains the emotional state (Hupka 1984).

Because individuals learn "explanations" during the socialization process, this conceptualization of jealousy assumes that jealousy is a social phenomenon. It is at least partially learned and it is manifested in response to symbolic stimuli that have meaning to the individual. The social aspects of jealousy have been noted by a number of writers. Kingsley Davis (1936), who is among the most prominent, argues that a comprehensive conceptualization of jealousy must include the public or community element.

The distinction between primary emotions and the compound emotion of jealousy is illustrated by the following example of sexual jealousy. A husband confesses to his wife that he recently had a one-time sexual relationship with another woman while away from home on a trip. Depending upon a variety of cultural, personal, and relational factors, the wife may experience either anger, fear, disgust, sadness, or a combination of such primary emotions. If the woman is typical of most individuals in Western society, she will interpret her husband's extramarital relationship as a threat to their marriage and will have learned that people experience jealousy in such situations. As a result, she will explain her anger, fear, and other primary emotions in terms of jealousy. Because extramarital sex is incompatible with many people's moral values, this example illustrates Eugene Mathes's (1991) point that the situations in which jealousy is experienced are determined by a person's beliefs about morality as well as by social expectations.

Jealousy is defined in a variety of ways in the literature. Gordon Clanton (1981) defines it as a protective reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship. Gerald McDonald (1982), taking a structural exchange perspective, views marital jealousy as the perceived threat of diminution or loss of the valued resources of the spouse. Robert Bringle and Bram Buunk (1985) define it as an aversive emotional reaction that occurs as the result of a partner's extradyadic relationship that is real, imagined, or considered likely to occur. Ira Reiss (1986) presents a sociological or group perspective by defining jealousy as a boundary-setting mechanism for what the group feels are important relationships. Finally, Gary Hansen (1991) expands upon Clanton's definition and views jealousy as a protective reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship, arising from a situation in which the partner's involvement with an activity and/or another person is contrary to the jealous person's definition of their relationship.

Dual-Factor Conceptualization

These definitions imply that two factors are necessary for a person to be jealous. First, the person must perceive his or her partner's actual or imagined involvement with an activity and/or another person as contrary to his or her definition of their relationship (Factor 1). Second, the person must perceive the relationship as valuable (Factor 2). Factor 1 acknowledges the fact that how one subjectively defines a relationship is important in understanding jealousy. As Carolyn Ellis and Eugene Weinstein state (1986, p. 343), "Jealousy occurs when a third party threatens the area of identification that specifically defines the relationship (emphasis in original)." The partner's behavior referred to in Factor 1 need not be sexual. Jealousy can arise from one's partner's involvement with children, professional colleagues, or solitary activities if such behavior is contrary to the jealous person's definition of their relationship and the relationship is valued. Factor 2, the importance of viewing the relationship as valuable, is demonstrated by cross-cultural work that finds that the importance of marriage or the value society places on it is related to jealousy.

This conceptualization focuses on the social psychological and sociological aspects of jealousy. In addition, there is the psychoanalytic speculation that early sibling conflicts may increase the intensity of jealousy in adult romantic relationships (Freud 1955). There also is John Bowlby's (1969, 1973, 1980) attachment theory that postulates that ill-formed or disrupted attachments with early caretakers often results in anxious attachment. The anxiously attached person remains excessively sensitive to the possibility of separation or loss of love and is especially susceptible to adult jealousy. A study by Clanton and David Kosins (1991) designed to test these two perspectives found little support for them and concluded that a sociological view emphasizing jealousy's role as a protector of valued relationships is a theoretical framework with greater utility.

Types of Jealousy

Various attempts have been made to distinguish between different types of jealousy. One important distinction is between normal and abnormal jealousy (Pines 1992). Normal jealousy has its basis in a real threat to a person's relationship with another. Most "normal" people experience intense jealousy when a valued relationship is threatened. On the other hand, jealousy is abnormal in two circumstances. First, jealousy is abnormal when it is not related to a real threat to a valued relationship, but to some inner trigger of the jealous individual. Such jealousy is also called delusional jealousy. Second, jealousy is abnormal when the jealous response is dramatically exaggerated or violent.

A similar distinction is made by Gerrod Parrott (1991), who believes the most important distinction concerns the nature of the threat to the relationship. Jealousy may occur when the threat is only suspected and its nature is unclear. On the other hand, it may occur when the threat is unambiguously real and its effects are known. When the threat is unclear or only suspected, the result is suspicious jealousy, and the predominant reactions concern fears and uncertainties. When the threat to the relationship is unambiguous and damaging, the result is a fait accompli: jealousy and the reactions are an accomplished fact.

Finally, Gregory White and Paul Mullen (1989) differentiate three major classes of jealousy. Symptomatic jealousy is a consequence of a major mental illness such as paranoid disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse, or organic brain disorders. Because of personality disorder or strong sensitizing experiences, some people are especially sensitive to self-esteem or relationship threat and experience pathological jealousy. Normal jealousy, on the other hand, occurs in people who are neither sensitized nor suffering from a major mental illness. These three classes of jealousy differ according to the relative influences of biology, personality, and relationship on the development of jealousy; in the jealous person's capacity for reality testing; and in suggested treatment approaches.

Correlates of Jealousy

Research has identified a number of factors associated with jealousy. Although both women and men experience jealousy, there are differences in the ways they experience and react to it. Men are more reactive to sexual involvement or threats, whereas women are more distressed by emotional involvement, loss of time and attention, and the prospect of losing a primary relationship (Buss et al. 1992; Teismann and Mosher 1978). Evolutionary psychology explains these sex differences in terms of the different adaptive problems men and women have faced. Because fertilization occurs internally within women, men have faced the problem of uncertainty in their genetic parentage of offspring. Therefore, men's jealousy is triggered by cues to sexual infidelity. Although women do not face the uncertainty of parentage, infidelity of a regular mate can be damaging. The man's time, energy, commitment, parental investment, and resources can be channeled to another woman and her children. Therefore, women's jealousy is more likely to be triggered by the possibility of the longterm diversion of such commitments as the mate's emotional involvement with another woman.

Across-cultural study conducted in the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States lends support to this explanation (Buunk et al. 1996). It found that men in all three societies tend to become more upset over a partner sharing purely sexual interest in a third person whereas women demonstrate more upset over a partner's desire for romantic and emotional involvement with another person. This doesn't mean that culture is unimportant, however. The same study found that the magnitude of sex differences clearly vary across cultures.

When it comes to reacting to jealousy, women are more likely to try to change to please their partners in order to avoid the threat of another relationship, whereas men are more likely to seek solace or retribution in alternative relationships (White and Mullen 1989). In addition, women are more likely to test a relationship by deliberately attempting to make their partners jealous (Adams 1980).

Researchers have consistently found gender-role traditionalism to be related positively to jealousy for one or both sexes. The division of labor in traditional gender roles may foster dependency and a sense of personal inadequacy. The resulting fear of facing the world alone increases jealousy. Similarly, positive associations have been found between jealousy and low self-esteem, insecurity, relationship dependency, and/or lack of alternatives for one or both sexes.

There is evidence that jealousy is negatively related to post-conventional moral reasoning among women (Mathes and Deuger 1985). This means that women who evaluate actions in terms of individual rights and abstract ethical principles are less likely to experience jealousy. In addition, males in heterosexual relationships are more sexually jealous than males in homosexual relationships (Hawkins 1990). Other findings are of interest for what they fail to show. Both romanticism and trust have been found not to be related to jealousy (Hansen 1982, 1985). These results fail to support the belief that jealousy and romantic love are intimately linked as well as the assumption that trust decreases the probability of jealousy.

Responses to and Coping with Jealousy

People respond to jealousy-producing situations in a number of ways. One of the more comprehensive attempts to classify them comes from Jeff Bryson (1991), who identified eight modes of response: emotional devastation, reactive retribution (get even), arousal (intensify ardor or interest in partner), need for social support (more intensive interaction with friends), intropunitiveness (blame and punish oneself for being jealous), confrontation (confront the situation directly), anger, and impression management (make others think don't care/get drunk or high). These eight responses comprise a variety of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral reactions that are independent of each other. A person may experience all of them, some of them, or only a single reaction in response to a particular jealousy-producing situation.

In addition to identifying the ways in which people respond, research also has focused on how people cope with jealousy. Buunk (1982) examined the ways people cope with their spouses' extramarital relationships and identified three strategies: avoidance (of the spouse), reappraisal (of the situation), and communication. Avoidance includes such things as considering the possibility of leaving the spouse and retreating. Reappraisal refers to cognitive attempts to reduce one's jealousy and includes developing a critical attitude toward one's own jealousy as well as direct attempts to get the jealousy under control by relativizing the whole situation. Communication, the most common strategy, can reduce jealousy if it results in a redefinition of the relationship or a changed perception of the partner's behavior. Buunk (1982) found that communication is positively related to marital satisfaction whereas avoidance is negatively related to it. Janice L. Francis (1977) reached a similar conclusion when she identified the development of communication skills as the appropriate treatment mode for sexual jealousy.

There is evidence that some people also cope with jealousy by devaluing their relationship. Peter Salovey and Judith Rodin (1985) found that selective ignoring, defined as simply deciding that the desired object is not that important, is a coping strategy used by some.

Although many studies of jealousy do not investigate the extreme techniques of coping with jealousy such as the use of physical force or homicide, studies of family violence leave little doubt that they occur frequently. Martin Daly, Margo Wilson, and Suzanne Weghorst (1982) reviewed several studies of spousal homicide that used data beyond those found in police files and concluded that male sexual jealousy may be a major source of conflict in an overwhelming majority of spousal homicides in North America. In addition, young males experiencing intense sexual jealousy are among the most common perpetrators of murder and suicide (Marzuk, Tardiff, and Hirsch 1992). Similarly, studies have noted the prevalence of jealousy as a motive in nonfatal wife abuse (Dobash and Dobash 1979) and courtship violence (Bookwala et al. 1992).

It is interesting to note that culture appears to contribute to the severity of aggression in sexual jealousy situations among males. Hupka and James M. Ryan (1990) studied ninety-two preindustrial societies and found that importance attached to being married, limitations placed on nonmarital sexual gratification, and emphasis placed on private ownership of property are associated with more aggressive responses in jealousy situations.

Further evidence for the importance of culture comes from the work of Ana R. Delgado, Gerardo Prieto, and Roderick A. Bond (1997) who examined whether people consider jealousy justification for wife battery. They found striking differences between Britain where the harmdoer was seen as more guilty and Spain where the victim was seen as more guilty.

Finally, a number of social-psychological studies provide some insight into some of the cognitive processes that may be involved as people cope with jealousy by changing their perceptions of their partners' behavior. Studies by White (1981) and Buunk (1984) indicate that perceived motives or attributions for the partner's behavior are related to jealousy. Therefore, changes in perceived motives or attributions can reduce jealousy. In addition, Bernd Schmitt (1988) found that jealous people derogate their rival on attributes they perceive to be important to their partners, but not on attributes they perceive as less important to their partners.


Jealousy has emerged as a legitimate area of social scientific study since the 1970s. Considerable progress has been made in understanding the nature of jealousy, identifying factors associated with it, and examining some of the ways people respond to and cope with jealousy. However, because there is much more to learn, jealousy, which is a major issue in many intimate relationships, should remain a significant focus of scientific investigation. Considering the fact that most contemporary empirical work has been done in North America and Europe, there is an obvious need for additional work focusing on jealousy in non-Western societies.

See also:Conflict: Couple Relationships; Infidelity; Therapy: Couple Relationships


Bringle, R., and Buunk, B. (1985). "Jealousy and Social Behavior: A Review of Person, Relationship, and Situational Determinants." In Self, Situations, and Social Behavior, vol. 6 of Review of Personality and SocialPsychology, edited by P. Shaver. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Bryson, J. B. (1991). "Modes of Response to Jealousy-Evoking Situations." In The Psychology of Jealousy and Envy, edited P. Salovey. New York: Guilford Press.

Buss, D.; Larsen, R. J.; Westen, D.; and Semmelroth, J. (1992). "Sex Differences in Jealousy: Evolution, Physiology, and Psychology." Psychological Science 3:251–255.

Buunk, B. (1982). "Strategies of Jealousy: Styles of Coping with Extramarital Involvement of Spouse." Family Relations 31:13–18.

Buunk, B. (1984). "Jealousy as Related to Attributions for the Partner's Behavior." Social Psychology Quarterly 47:107–112.

Buunk. B.; Angleitner, A.; Oubaid, V.; and Buss, D. M. (1996). "Sex Differences in Jealousy in Evolutionary and Cultural Perspective: Test From the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States." Psychological Science 7:359–363.

Clanton, G. (1981). "Frontiers of Jealousy Research: Introduction to the Special Issue on Jealousy." Alternative Lifestyles 4:259–273.

Clanton, G., and Kosins, D. J. (1991). "Developmental Correlates of Jealousy." In The Psychology of Jealousy and Envy, edited P. Salovey. New York: Guilford Press.

Daly, M.; Wilson, M.; and Weghorst, S. J. (1982). "Male Sexual Jealousy." Ethology and Sociobiology 3:11–27.

Delgado, A. R.; Prieto, G.; and Bond, R. A. (1997). "The Cultural Factor in Lay Perception of Jealousy as a Motive for Wife Battery." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 27:1824–1841.

Ellis, C., and Weinstein, E. (1986). "Jealousy and the Social Psychology of Emotional Experience." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 3:337–357.

Francis, J. L. (1977). "Toward the Management of Heterosexual Jealousy." Journal of Marriage and Family Counseling 3:61–69.

Freud, S. (1955). "Some Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia and Homosexuality." In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 18, ed. and trans. J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press.

Hansen, G. L. (1982). "Reactions to Hypothetical, Jealousy-Producing Events." Family Relations 31:513–518.

Hansen, G. L. (1985). "Perceived Threats and Marital Jealousy." Social Psychology Quarterly 48:262–268.

Hawkins, R. O., Jr. (1990). "The Relationship between Culture, Personality, and Sexual Jealousy in Men in Heterosexual and Homosexual Relationships." Journal of Homosexuality 19:67–84.

Hupka, R. B. (1984). "Jealousy: Compound Emotion or Label for a Particular Situation." Motivation and Emotion 8:141–155.

Hupka, R. B., and Ryan, J. M. (1990). "The Cultural Contribution to Jealousy: Cross-Cultural Aggression in Sexual Jealousy Situations." Behavior Science Research 24:51–71.

Mathes, E. W. (1991). "A Cognitive Theory of Jealousy." In The Psychology of Jealousy and Envy, ed. P. Salovey. New York: Guilford Press.

Pines, A. M. (1992). Romantic Jealousy: Understanding and Conquering the Shadow of Love. New York: St. Martins Press.

Schmitt, B. H. (1988). "Social Comparison and Romantic Jealousy." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 14:374–387.

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White, G. L. (1981). "Jealousy and Partner's Perceived Motives for Attraction to a Rival." Social Psychology Quarterly 44:24–30.

White, G. L., and Mullen, P. E. (1989). Jealousy: Theory,Research, and Clinical Strategies. New York: Guilford Press.

gary l. hansen

zheng zeng

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390. Jealousy (See also Envy.)

  1. adders tongue flower symbolizes jealousy. [Western Folklore: Jobes, 31]
  2. Anastasia and Orizella Cinderellas two step-sisters; jealous of her beauty, they treat her miserably. [Fr. Fairy Tale: Cinderella ]
  3. Arnolphe representative of jealous middle age. [Fr. Lit.: LEcole des Femmes ]
  4. Bartolo, Dr. jealous and suspicious tutor. [Fr. Lit.: Barber of Seville ]
  5. Calchas dies from grief on encountering even wiser soothsayer. [Gk. Myth.: LLEI, I: 325]
  6. Callirrhoë demands of husband former wifes necklace and robe. [Gk. Legend: NCE, 55]
  7. Cephalus and Procris young married couple plagued by jealousy. [Gk. Myth.: Hall, 62]
  8. coat of many colors Jacobs gift to Joseph; object of jealousy. [O.T.: Genesis 37:3]
  9. Deianira kills husband Hercules for suspected affair with Iole. [Gk. Myth.: Leach, 303]
  10. Dionyza jealously plots Marinas murder. [Br. Lit.: Pericles ]
  11. Donald Duck frustrated character jealous of Mickey Mouse. [Comics: Horn, 216217]
  12. Ferrando of Manricos influence on Leonora. [Ital. Opera: Verdi, The Troubadour, Westerman, 302]
  13. Golaud jealousy leads to the murder of his brother, Pelléas. [Fr. Opera: Debussy, Pelléas and Mélisande, Westerman, 196]
  14. green-eyed monster epithet. [Br. Lit.: Othello ]
  15. Kitelys man and wife each laughably suspicious of the others fidelity. [Br. Lit.: Every Man in His Humour ]
  16. Leontes of wife and Polixenes. [Br. Lit.: The Winters Tale ]
  17. Malbecco seeing his wife living among satyrs, he is so mad with jealosy that he casts himself from a cliff. [Br. Lit.: Spenser The Faerie Queene ; Brewer Dictionary, 336]
  18. Medea sends husband Jasons new bride poisoned cloak. [Gk. Lit.: Medea ; Fr. Lit.: Médée ]
  19. Oberon King of Fairies; jealous of wifes attachments. [Br. Lit.: A Midsummer Nights Dream ]
  20. Othello smothers Desdemona out of jealousy. [Br. Lit.: Othello ]
  21. Polyphemus crushes lovers lover. [Rom. Lit.: Metamorphoses ]
  22. Pozdnishef, Vasyla murders wife in fit of insane resentment. [Russ. Lit.: The Kreutzer Sonata, Magill I, 481483]
  23. Shabata, Frank mistrusted everyone who showed kindness to wife, Marie. [Am. Lit.: 0 Pioneers!, Magill I, 663665]
  24. wild ass signifies jealousy. [Animal Symbolism: Jobes, 142]
  25. yellow color symbolizing jealousy. [Western Folklore: Jobes, 1704]
  26. yellow rose indicates jealousy. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 177]

Jesters (See CLOWNS .)

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An envious emotional attitude primarily directed by an individual toward someone perceived as a rival for the affections of a loved one or for something one desires, such as a job, promotion, or award.

Jealousy is a combination of emotional reactions, including fear , anger , and anxiety. Studies have shown that men and women tend to feel jealous for different reasons; for instance, physical attractiveness in a perceived rival is more likely to incite jealousy in a woman than in a man. Everyone occasionally experiences normal jealousy; caring about anyone or anything means that one will become uncomfortable and anxious at the prospect of losing the desired person or object to another. An unhealthy degree of apathy would be required for an individual never to experience jealousy.

The opposite extreme is pathological jealousy, also called morbid jealousy, which differs significantly from normal jealousy in its degree of intensity. Stronger and more long-lasting than normal jealousy, it is generally characterized by serious feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, as well as suspiciousness or paranoia . Whereas healthy individuals recover from jealousy fairly rapidly, either by realizing that it is unfounded or through some other coping mechanism, pathologically jealous people become obsessed by their fears and constantly look for signs that their suspicions are true, to the point where they may find it difficult to function normally. Excessive jealousy is unhealthy and destructive in all relationships. By making people behave in ways that will alienate others, jealousy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy , depriving its victims of the affection or success they are so anxious to protect. Individuals suffering from morbid jealousy are prone to severe anxiety, depression , difficulty in controlling anger, and may engage in self-destructive behavior or elicit suicidal tendencies.

Further Reading

White, Gregory. Jealousy. New York: Guilford Press, 1989.

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jeal·ous·y / ˈjeləsē/ • n. (pl. -ous·ies) the state or feeling of being jealous: a sharp pang of jealousy | resentments and jealousies festered.

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jealousy •radiancy •immediacy, intermediacy •expediency • idiocy • saliency •resiliency • leniency •incipiency, recipiency •recreancy • pruriency • deviancy •subserviency • transiency • pliancy •buoyancy, flamboyancy •fluency, truancy •constituency • abbacy • embassy •celibacy • absorbency •incumbency, recumbency •ascendancy, intendancy, interdependency, pendency, resplendency, superintendency, tendency, transcendency •candidacy •presidency, residency •despondency • redundancy • infancy •sycophancy • argosy • legacy •profligacy • surrogacy •extravagancy • plangency • agency •regency •astringency, contingency, stringency •intransigency • exigency • cogency •pungency •convergency, emergency, insurgency, urgency •vacancy • piquancy • fricassee •mendicancy • efficacy • prolificacy •insignificancy • delicacy • intricacy •advocacy • fallacy • galaxy •jealousy, prelacy •repellency • valency • Wallasey •articulacy • corpulency • inviolacy •excellency • equivalency • pharmacy •supremacy • clemency • Christmassy •illegitimacy, legitimacy •intimacy • ultimacy • primacy •dormancy • diplomacy • contumacy •stagnancy •lieutenancy, subtenancy, tenancy •pregnancy •benignancy, malignancy •effeminacy • prominency •obstinacy • pertinency • lunacy •immanency •impermanency, permanency •rampancy • papacy • flippancy •occupancy •archiepiscopacy, episcopacy •transparency • leprosy • inerrancy •flagrancy, fragrancy, vagrancy •conspiracy • idiosyncrasy •minstrelsy • magistracy • piracy •vibrancy •adhocracy, aristocracy, autocracy, bureaucracy, democracy, gerontocracy, gynaecocracy (US gynecocracy), hierocracy, hypocrisy, meritocracy, mobocracy, monocracy, plutocracy, technocracy, theocracy •accuracy • obduracy • currency •curacy, pleurisy •confederacy • numeracy •degeneracy • itinerancy • inveteracy •illiteracy, literacy •innocency • trenchancy • deficiency •fantasy, phantasy •intestacy • ecstasy • expectancy •latency • chieftaincy • intermittency •consistency, insistency, persistency •instancy • militancy • impenitency •precipitancy • competency •hesitancy • apostasy • constancy •accountancy • adjutancy •consultancy, exultancy •impotency • discourtesy •inadvertency • privacy •irrelevancy, relevancy •solvency • frequency • delinquency •adequacy • poignancy

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