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Serial infidelity: the brain adapts to ease guilt

People who are unfaithful to their partner are likely to repeat such behaviour because of the way the brain adapts.

A recent study suggests that the more someone is dishonest, the less they will feel guilty about doing so in the future. This is due to a part of the brain called the amygdala which is responsible for negative feelings when someone lies. However each time that person is dishonest, the response from the amygdala is reduced as the brain adapts to this behaviour.

Princeton Neuroscience Institute researcher Neil Garrett was one of the study’s co-authors. Speaking to Elite Daily, he said it was possible the same principle could apply to infidelity. He explained that “a powerful factor that prevents us from cheating is our emotional reaction to it” but “the process of adaptation reduces this reaction, thereby allowing us to cheat more”.

He said:

“With serial cheaters, it could be the case that they initially felt bad about cheating, but have cheated so much they’ve adapted to their ways and simply don’t feel bad about cheating anymore.”

However it was also possible that some of those who have been unfaithful in the past never felt badly about it at all he continued. Therefore “they didn’t need adaptation to occur, they were comfortable with it from the get-go”.

Garrett’s experiment was designed to test people’s capacity to lie. Participants were told to help someone guess how many coins were in a jar. The person they were to help was only given a blurry image of the jar and the participants were told that they would be given a financial reward if the guess was too high.

Read the full study here.

Photo by Franklin Heijnen via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Paul says:

    Makes sense. Its also worth pointing out that people with a lack of empathy or more narsistic personality will feel less remorse for their actions. Don’t underestimate how these psycological issues or boarderline personality disorders effect our everyday life. Its a natural for some men to ruthlessly persue sex at the expense of all other things. This is absolutly nessisary to perpetuate the population. I beleive it is an evolutionally trait. It ensures breeding diversity. Seems to me that a womans first instinct is for stability to nest for children ect and a mans insticts are to breed. I think a persons out look on sex and sexual morality will also effect how guilty they feel. If you believe in love an fidelity then your guilt will be mentally imprinted. If you have a more hedenistic outlook and beleive sex is just a harmless natural act then you will probably not be too concerned. Guilty will only manifest itself when you get caught and effectively guilty is heaped on you by your partner. A persons outlook on sex is as differnt as their thumb print.

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