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The Evolution of Jealousy

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Of the human emotions, jealousy is one of the most powerful and painful. And it is deadly: Statistical studies rank jealousy as the third most common motive for murder. Recently evolutionary psychologists proposed that jealousy is a specific innate module, a circuit in the brain that reflects the different selective pressures that acted on ancestral men and women. According to this theory, men typically become jealous when they suspect sexual competition, a response to the threat of cuckoldry. Jealousy in women, in contrast, is triggered by suspicion of emotional betrayal: Women sense that their children’s survival might be threatened should a philandering mate divert resources to another women and her children. Harris reviews this theory critically in light of new studies suggesting that a gender difference is not so clear, and offers alternative hypotheses.

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