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From Barnes & NobleA Review by the Barnes & Noble.com Science & Nature Editor Although it is all too possible to take the logic of evolutionary psychology too far, I found DANGEROUS PASSION a completely absorbing read with fascinating, and sometimes horrifying, case studies enlivening the statistics and research. David Buss is a major player in this field with the right credentials and a personable sense of humor. His theory has a ring of truth, and he really tries to face the implications of what he purports. In this book, he wants to show that jealousy, along with the other so-called negative emotions -- fear, anger, and so on -- are completely adaptive, from an evolutionary perspective. He blasts therapists and others who try to make people believe that jealousy is a mental illness or character flaw. From his research, it becomes apparent that the vast majority of people from all cultures admit to having feelings of jealousy at some point in their lives.
So what is the purpose of jealousy? First, it is important to distinguish between jealousy and envy. Envy is wanting something you don't have -- prestige, wealth, beauty, and so on -- while jealousy is wanting to protect something you do have -- most notably your relationship with your mate. It is the primal need to fend off rivals, whether you are male or female. However, men and women have different jealousy triggers and different strategies to keep their mates. Here is where Buss invokes the usual evolutionary psychology stand on sex difference (one of the main pet peeves of feminists). Women can only carry a finite number of offspring and need resources to care for them. In contrast, men can inseminate a far greater number of women (if they can find the partners!). However, women do have the upper hand in the certainty of maternity, whereas men don't, at least before genetic testing; a dilemma captured in the saying "Mamma's baby, Pappa's maybe." That is where the difference in jealousy comes in. Men are more jealous of sexual infidelity, whereas women are more alarmed at the prospect of emotional infidelity, the threat that support and resources will be transferred to another mate. Critics of these types of statements will say that these are just stereotypes, but Buss has conducted many, many surveys confirming this. For example when people were asked to fantasize about the worst thing that could happen in their relationship, the results tended to be: men obsess about their partner naked in bed with another man, while women cringe at the idea of their lover in a romantic, intimate scene trading heartfelt secrets. Buss is careful to point out that the reverse also brings up jealous feelings, just not the most intense. Healthy relationships are solidified by small doses of jealousy, which cause the threatened partner to redouble his or her efforts to keep the relationship going. This process works best when the partners are evenly matched in desirability on the mate market. When the partners are mismatched, either initially or in the course of the relationship, jealousy can explode for the very realistic reason that the jealous person knows that his or her partner could find someone else.
The most revealing case studies of this process involved a number of men who had been referred to therapy for pathological jealousy. When their partners were asked in confidence whether or not they were having an affair, the majority of the partners admitted that they were! So much for jealousy being crazy. Buss goes through all the signals that alert people to possible infidelity, why some people go into denial when faced with infidelity, who is at risk of spousal violence, and when acting jealous can help save a relationship. Even if you have reservations about evolutionary psychology as the blanket explanation for all things human, this book is full of insights and will change the way you think about relationships.
-- Laura Wood, Science & Nature Editor