Jealousy- The necessary evil

Psychologist Dr. Christine Harris and her colleague, Caroline Prouvost, recently published the results of a study confirming what many of us already suspected: Dogs get jealous. They demonstrated this by evaluating how dogs responded to their owners petting a fake dog and a jack-o-lantern pail, or reading from a pop-up book complete with melodies. This is an interesting study for what it tells us about dogs alone, but it has broader implications for what jealousy is all about: Since it appears that we share this trait with other species, does that mean jealousy is natural? If so, what does this mean when considering jealous feelings in our own lives and relationships?

To answer these questions, let’s examine jealousy a bit more closely: Jealousy is frequently considered as a secondary emotion, triggered in response to primary emotion like fear or anger. It’s the feeling that someone is trying to take something you have. Frankly, anytime a strong bond is formed with a member of the opposite sex, or same sex, jealous behavior will emerge when an interloper is detected. In that sense, we can think about how jealousy may have evolved to protect our social bonds from trespassers. In species that don’t form strong romantic attachments, jealousy behavior over mates isn’t as frequent. If you think about it, as soon as you have a sibling, your parents’ time, energy, affection, and resources is divided up into smaller and smaller bits. Not to mention, just as in some human families, in many other species there is some version of parents allocating resources differently among the kids.

Whether it is time, affection, resources, or mates, we can see that, in other animals, jealous behavior is functional and purposeful. This brings up a critical difference between humans and other animals: Other animals respond to actual threats from potential mate thieves and to real differences in the allocation of time, affection, and resources. What wedon’t see is jealousy in response to imaginary threats. A titi monkey will not wake up, having dreamed that their partner was unfaithful, and behave aggressively toward an imaginary intruder, or worse, its own mate. We humans not only have the tendency to become jealous over imagined threats, we also don’t often seem to take into account the “cost” of certain behaviors. Spending your time watching, following, or checking up on a partner takes time away from accomplishing your own goals.A healthy dose of suspicion seems understandable, whether in humans or mountain baboons. What doesn’t make sense is the all-consuming perception of constant threat. This is costly to one’s self and damaging to one’s relationship—a fact which becomes obvious when we recognize that jealousy often emerges as the third-leading motive of non-accidental homicide.

Shreshtha Chakraborty

(All information from Psychology Today)

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