Women feel more betrayed by ‘emotional’ rather than ‘sexual’ infidelity when they catch a cheating partner on Facebook, according to new research.
But it is the other way around for men, who are more upset when an unfaithful wife or girlfriend goes to bed with a rival, rather than develops a close friendship.
And, irrespective of the contents, women overall were more upset than men when they had to imagine discovering an infidelity-related message.
Scientists say it shows both sexes display the same type of jealousy when they read compromising messages as if they had caught out a lover offline.
Females were most distressed in response to discovering a close friendship, rather than a physical relationship.
Meanwhile, males felt worst when they found social media accounts revealing their partner had been to bed with another man.
Dr Michael Dunn, of Cardiff Metropolitan University, said: “Currently, most snooping research is predominantly concerned with the exploration and understanding of snooping on a romantic partner’s mobile phone.
“However, with Facebook playing such a pre-eminent role in modern society, snooping has rapidly moved online as well.”
This is according to Dr Dunn and Colleague Gemma Billett who investigated how jealousy manifests between the sexes when people find compromising messages on their partner’s social media accounts.
In the study 21 male and 23 female undergraduates were shown a selection of eight imaginary Facebook-style messages portraying either emotional or sexual infidelity.
The former were along the lines of: “You must be my soulmate! Feel so bloody connected to you, even though we haven’t slept together.”
An example of the latter was: “You must be the best one-night stand I’ve ever had. Last night was out of this world sexy bum!”
The ‘discovered’ note was either composed and sent by the partner, or came from someone else.
Participants had to rate how distressed they would have felt if they had come across such messages while accessing their partner’s Facebook messaging service without permission.
Men felt more distressed when they read social media messages that revealed their partners’ sexual rather than emotional infidelity.
However, women were more upset than men in response to emotional messages.
Dr Dunn and co author Gemma Billet also found women were significantly more upset when a potential rival had written the message, compared to when it was composed by their own partners.
For men, the opposite seemed to be true and they appeared to be more upset by imagining their partner sending rather than receiving an infidelity-revealing message.
The study supports evolutionary theories suggesting there are differences in what triggers jealousy among men and women - and in how they subsequently direct such feelings towards a cheating partner or potential rival.
According to the researchers, it is important to understand the mechanisms underlying jealousy, and how it plays out in the digital age.
Real or suspected partner infidelity that causes sexual or emotional jealousy is often given as the reason for domestic abuse and violence.
Dr Dunn said applying an evolutionary perspective to understanding the manifestation of jealous behaviour may help combat domestic abuse triggered by infidelity-related anger.
A rise in these is inevitable in an “age where clandestine extra-marital relationships are facilitated by modern forms of media technology.”
He said the heightened use of social network platforms including Facebook has been associated with damaging romantic relationships, with a significant increase online infidelity.
Dr Dunn added: “With online infidelity increasing partner paranoia, inevitably, actions implemented to counteract such behaviours are also on the rise.
“This increased paranoia can help explain the growth of certain mistrusting behaviours, such as ‘snooping’.
“The modern concept of snooping can be defined as checking one’s partner’s private possessions and personal communications including private Facebook messages.
“Snooping has been found to be a reliable and widely used method of determining infidelity within modern relationships.
“With regard to snooping prevalence, it has previously been demonstrated 66 per cent of an undergraduate sample admitted to snooping on their partner’s private messages without permission and at least another fifth admitting they were patiently waiting for the appropriate opportunity to snoop.”
The study published in Evolutionary Psychological Science follows US research last year that found women feel just as betrayed if their husband or boyfriend has a close friendship with another woman as an affair.
Becoming close to another woman was considered ‘cheating’ - even if there was no physical intimacy.
But men were less concerned about this but more so if their wife or girlfriend had sex with another man.
The findings were based on a sample of more than 400 people.