Jealousy and the Threatened Self: Getting to the Heart
of the Green-Eyed Monster
David DeSteno, Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Monica Y. Bartlett
Several theories specifying the causes of jealousy have been put forth in the past few decades. Firm
support for any proposed theory, however, has been limited by the difficulties inherent in inducing
jealousy and examining any proposed mediating mechanisms in real time. In support of a theory of
jealousy centering on threats to the self-system, 2 experiments are presented that address these past
limitations and argue for a model based on context-induced variability in self-evaluation. Experiment 1
presents a method for evoking jealousy through the use of highly orchestrated social encounters and
demonstrates that threatened self-esteem functions as a principal mediator of jealousy. In addition to
replicating these findings, Experiment 2 provides direct evidence for jealousy as a cause of aggression.
The ability of the proposed theory of jealousy to integrate other extant findings in the literature is also
Keywords: jealousy, self-esteem, aggression, emotion
Jealousy, it seems, is a fundamental aspect of human social life.
For as far back in time or as widely across civilizations as one can
peer, the green-eyed monster has reared its head. From Gil-
gamesh’s romps retold in the first millennium
B.C.E, to Othello’s
throes portrayed in the middle part of the last millennium, to
modern day soap operas and drama series, fascination with the
jealousy motif has not waned among artists and audiences alike.
From cultures representing geographically and socially disparate
milieus, research documents the pervasiveness of jealousy among
men and women from childhood to old age (e.g., Bryson, 1991;
Buunk, Angleitner, Oubaid, & Buss, 1996; Geary, Rumsey, Bow-
Thomas, & Hoard, 1995; Hupka et al., 1985; Masciuch & Kien-
apple, 1993). Jealousy’s ubiquity is so well accepted that even
Freud (1922/1955) himself suggested that its absence, not its
presence (at least within normal levels), is a sign of pathology.
From a functional perspective, jealousy stands as an exemplary
candidate for a fundamental social emotion. Emotions, like many
psychological phenomena, are theorized to exist because they
serve some adaptive purpose. That is, although their specific
components and sequelae may operate on many different levels
(e.g., neurochemical, interpersonal, cultural), emotions are de-
signed to increase the success with which an organism meets
specific challenges by shunting cognition and behavior toward
certain outcomes (Frijda, 2000; Keltner & Gross, 1999; Keltner &
Haidt, 1999; Lazarus, 1991; LeDoux & Phelps, 2000; O
Wiens, 2003). The cognitive and physiological changes associated
with fear and anxiety, for example, prepare an organism to detect
and/or escape from an impending danger more efficiently (LeDoux
& Phelps, 2000; O
hman, 2002). It is important to note, however,
that organisms whose existence is characterized by high degrees of
collective or social living confront not only challenges involving
the successful navigation of the physical environment but also
those involving the social one (e.g., social exchange, coalition
building, social bonding, and relationship maintenance; Bartlett &
DeSteno, 2006; Cosmides & Tooby, 2000; Darwin, 1872/1998;
Keltner & Busswell, 1997; Keltner & Haidt, 1999; Lewis, 2000).
The importance of such challenges suggests the need for specific
emotional responses that are intrinsically tied to sociality.
Jealousy: Form and Function
For humans, adaptive functioning is intrinsically tied to social
interactions through which myriad needs are met (e.g., protection,
resource acquisition, reproduction). Accordingly, engagement in
interpersonal relationships stands as a fundamental predictor of
human physical and psychological health (Baumeister & Leary,
1995; Berscheid & Reis, 1998; Cacioppo et al., 2002) and is
fostered by the seemingly universal motive to belong to social
groups and be a member of interpersonal relationships (Baumeister
& Leary, 1995). Indeed, involvement in social relationships is of
such central value to adaptive functioning that it has been docu-
mented to increase psychological well-being (Diener, 1984; Myers
& Diener, 1995), resistance to cardiovascular disease (Berkman,
Vaccarino, & Seeman, 1993), resistance to cancer (Glanz & Ler-
man, 1992), and immune system function (Booth & Pennebaker,
2000; Kennedy, Kiecolt-Glaser, & Glaser, 1990; Kiecolt-Glaser,
Given the benefits provided by relationships, competition for
them frequently arises (Salovey, 1991). Consequently, the exis-
David DeSteno, Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Monica Y. Bartlett, Depart-
ment of Psychology, Northeastern University.
Monica Bartlett is now at the Department of Psychology, Gonzaga
This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health
Grant MH068240. We thank Nilanjana Dasgupta and members of the
Boston Emotion Research Lab for insights and comments regarding this
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David
DeSteno, Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston,
MA 02115. E-mail: email@example.com
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association
2006, Vol. 91, No. 4, 626 – 641 0022-3514/06/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.526
tence of a specific emotion designed to protect these relationships
from the advances of rivals is to be expected. Accordingly, most
researchers agree that jealousy functions to evoke somatic, cogni-
tive, and behavioral responses designed to address relationship
threats (Buss, Larsen, Westen, & Semmelroth, 1992; DeSteno &
Salovey, 1995; Salovey, 1991; White, 1991).
With respect to
phenomenology, most researchers also agree that the subjective
experience of jealousy is quite aversive and best described as a
combination or blend of the feelings of anger, anxiety, betrayal,
and hurt (Buck, 1999; Hupka, 1984, 1991; Parrott & Smith, 1993;
Sharpsteen, 1991; Sharpsteen & Kirkpatrick, 1997). The ubiquity
and agony of jealousy stand in direct correspondence to the fun-
damental threats posed by its eliciting events.
For many, the prototypical jealousy-evoking situation involves a
romantic triad: An individual becomes jealous as he or she sus-
pects or actually learns that a partner is interested in a rival
(Salovey, 1991). Asking individuals about actual or imagined
instances of this type of scenario has been one of the more widely
used methods in studies of jealousy (e.g., Buss, Larsen, Westen, &
Semmelroth, 1992; DeSteno, Bartlett, Braverman, & Salovey,
2002; DeSteno & Salovey, 1996; Harris, 2003; Salovey, 1991).
Yet, there is no requirement that the relationship being threatened
needs to be a romantic one. All that is central is that a valued
relationship of any type may be usurped by a rival (DeSteno,
2004). Research clearly supports the fact that jealousy is not
limited solely to romantic relationships but can occur within any
type of triadic relationship. Developmental research, for example,
has shown that children may be jealous of siblings’ relationships
with parents (Masiuch & Kienapple, 1993; Volling, McElwain, &
Miller, 2002); workers have been shown to be jealous of their
coworkers’ relationships with superiors (Vecchio, 2000). In each
case, the nature of the fundamental threat is the same, although the
specifics differ. Parents possess a finite amount of personal (e.g.,
emotional, attentional) and substantive (e.g., economic, food) re-
sources that can be divided among offspring; superiors, likewise,
possess a finite amount of privileges they can offer. In both
instances, the strength of one’s relationship with such partners
holds important implications for survival and advancement. The
strength of the relationship dictates the allocation of resources.
Accordingly, jealousy aimed at safeguarding such relationships
can be expected to play an important role during all phases of life.
Indeed, it is a more efficient process to have a single emotion that
is sensitive to rival-induced threats to any established or budding
relationships than to have discrete systems designed for each
specific type of relationship challenge (DeSteno, 2004; DeSteno et
This assertion identifies jealousy as a discrete emotional re-
sponse to a specific type of anticipated or actual social rejection:
rejection by a relationship partner in favor of a rival. Yet it is
important to note that although social rejection can take many
forms (e.g., ostracism from a group, refusal of admission to a
group, relationship dissolution not due to a rival), jealousy and any
associated behavioral sequelae can be expected to be intrinsically
tied only to the triadic relationship pattern noted in the preceding
sentences. Put simply, jealous distress stems from a motivation to
protect a relationship from being usurped, and resulting behaviors
(e.g., derogation of rivals) center on preventing successful ad-
vances of rivals (Salovey, 1991). Other types of social rejection
may induce negative emotional states (e.g., shame, anger); how-
ever, these states differ from jealousy and any associated behaviors
do not center directly on issues of usurpation.
Chasing the Monster
Given both its prevalence and painfulness, it is not surprising
that jealousy has become one of the more studied social emotions
during the past few decades (DeSteno, 2004; Salovey, 1991).
Broad interest in this emotion stems not only from the distress it
engenders but also from its association with aggressive behavior.
Indeed, jealousy, more so than many negative emotions, is thought
to lead to hostile and abusive behavior aimed at relationship
partners (De Weerth & Kalma, 1993; Mullen, 1996; Paul, Foss, &
Galloway, 1993; Schackleford, 2001; White, 1991) and stands as
a likely contributing factor to homicide-related deaths among
women, with over 40% of such female deaths in 2000 stemming
from conflict with relationship partners (U.S. Department of Jus-
In light of the distress and violence associated with jealousy, the
need to better understand the psychological mechanisms that de-
termine its intensity is of high import. At present, however, little
empirical evidence exists that provides strong support for a spe-
cific model of jealousy. Researchers possess an understanding of
jealousy’s most general environmental elicitors and phenomeno-
logical results but lack clear evidence regarding the intrapsychic
processes underlying it. Indeed, the previously prevailing view that
jealousy stems from sex-specific, evolved modules sensitive to
reproductive threats (see Buss et al., 1992) has encountered for-
midable theoretical and empirical difficulties that limit its viability
(DeSteno, Barlett, & Salovey, in press; DeSteno et al., 2002;
DeSteno & Salovey, 1996a; Harris, 2003; Harris & Christenfeld,
1996; Sabini & Green, 2004). In the absence of evidence support-
ing a specific theoretical model, it becomes difficult to provide a
clear and parsimonious account for the intra- and interindividual
variation in jealousy known to exist.
A primary reason for this void is that the majority of previous
research, our own included (e.g., DeSteno & Salovey, 1996b), has
relied on predictions regarding the intensity of jealousy one would
feel if a relationship partner were, hypothetically, to act in some
specified way (DeSteno, 2004; Salovey, 1991). Forecasts of emo-
tional intensity in response to hypothetical events have been
shown, unfortunately, to be subject to several biases (Gilbert,
Pinel, Wilson, Blumberg, & Wheatley, 1998; Wilson, Wheatley,
Meyers, Gilbert, & Axsom, 2000), and, therefore, their use as a
primary dependent variable to test models of jealousy is problem-
atic. Simply put, how one thinks she or he may feel in response to
the presence of a rival need not necessarily reflect reality. Indeed,
attempting to understand the functional influence of an emotion on
subsequent cognition and behavior without a true in vivo induction
of the emotion is a tenuous enterprise at best. Emotions exert their
influence on cognition and behavior through conscious and non-
Although the term jealousy is also used in modern parlance to connote
begrudging feelings toward another individual due to his or her possession
of some desired object or attribute, this feeling state is more appropriately
labeled as envy (Parrott, 1991; Smith, 1991). Jealousy is defined as the
negative emotional state generated in response to a threatened or actual loss
of a valued relationship due to the presence of a real or imagined rival
(DeSteno & Salovey, 1995, 1996b; Parrott & Smith, 1993; Salovey, 1991).
JEALOUSY AND THE THREATENED SELF
conscious processes (DeSteno, Dasgupta, Bartlett, & Cajdric,
2004; LeDoux & Phelps, 2000; O
hman & Wiens, 2003; Schwarz
& Clore, 1996). It seems unlikely, therefore, that the mediators and
associated processes stemming from simply estimating how one
would feel if the emotion in question were to be evoked would
mirror the effects of the true emotional experience. This argument
applies equally to studies that use retrospective assessments of
jealousy; in addition to memory biases involving intensity, accu-
rate assessment of proposed mediators becomes problematic, as it
is unlikely that such mediators would be properly engaged through
simple recall of the event in question.
Of course, jealousy researchers recognize these problems. The
limiting factor to studying jealousy in real time has been the
difficulties inherent in inducing it in the lab. Nonetheless, the
induction of in vivo jealousy in an experimental context is neces-
sary in order to test hypotheses regarding mediating mechanisms.
Only with the ability to manipulate jealousy and subsequently
measure a proposed mediator and behavioral outcomes in real time
can strong evidence for a specific theory be marshaled. In its
absence, one is left with a reliance on data from hypothetical
scenarios or the use of correlational measures that may suggest
potential mediators or moderators of jealousy (e.g., personality
traits, cultural membership) but are, in themselves, insufficient to
establish causality. In the present article, we accept this challenge
and attempt to test initial hypotheses derived from a theory of
jealousy based on threatened self-esteem through real-time exper-
imental inductions of this emotion. In so doing, we hope not only
to provide strong support for a specific theory of jealousy but also
to suggest how the proposed theory may hold the potential to
integrate previous and seemingly disparate findings regarding the
influence of idiographic and cultural factors on this emotion.
Self-Esteem Threat as the Mediator of Jealousy
It is our contention that threatened self-esteem is the principal
mediating mechanism of jealousy. Schematically, this model
shares similarities with many appraisal theories of emotion:
Awareness of an event is followed by an appraisal of its signifi-
cance and then by an ensuing emotional state designed to lead to
an adaptive response (cf. Ellsworth & Scherer, 2003; Frijda, 1986;
Lazarus, 1991; LeDoux & Phelps, 2000). In the specific case of
jealousy, events that have the possibility to arouse this emotion
must involve the real or imagined interaction of a relationship
partner with a rival. Once an individual becomes aware of any such
interaction, an appraisal is made regarding the self-esteem threat
posed by it. This event serves as the proximate cause for jealousy,
which then leads to behaviors designed to remove the threat. Such
an appraisal, of course, need not involve a conscious attempt at
assessment; appraisals of emotion-relevant stimuli often occur
automatically (Ellsworth & Scherer, 2003; LeDoux & Phelps,
2000). Our central point is that the appraisal centers on the self-
system, and variations in momentary levels of self-esteem stand as
the driving force for jealousy. Although it is a relatively parsimo-
nious model, the question of why the induction of jealousy should
depend on or use the self-system necessarily arises.
The candidacy of threatened self-esteem as a mediator for
jealousy is supported by work suggesting self-esteem’s importance
in assessing status in social relationships. Indeed, many have noted
that a primary and pancultural determinant of self-esteem is the
perception and evaluation provided by others (Cooley, 1902/1956;
A. P. Fiske, Kitayama, Markus, & Nisbett, 1998; Goffman, 1959)
and that one of self-esteem’s central functions is to provide an
ongoing gauge of one’s status vis-a`-vis relationship partners
(Leary & Baumeister, 2000; Leary, Tambor, Terdal, & Downs,
1995). Correspondingly, many emotions related to functioning
within the context of interpersonal relationships (i.e., social emo-
tions) have been shown to involve awareness and appraisals of self
(Leary, 2003; Tangney & Fischer, 1995; Tracy & Robins, 2004).
Knowledge involving other individuals’ evaluations of oneself
and their motivations for certain behaviors certainly stands as an
integral variable in correctly appraising a given social situation
(Flavell, 2004; U. Frith & Frith, 2001; Saxe, Carey, & Kanwisher,
2004). Indeed, differences in theory of mind (i.e., the ability to
infer and understand the mental states of others) have been directly
linked with social emotions involving self-appraisal. For example,
autistic individuals evidence a deficit in recognizing self-conscious
emotions (e.g., embarrassment, shame) as opposed to more basic
ones (e.g., anger, disgust; Heerey, Keltner, & Capps, 2003). Sim-
ilarly, individuals with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex demon-
strate marked deficiencies in the appropriate experience and reg-
ulation of several social emotions (Beer, Heerey, Keltner, Scabini,
& Knight, 2003). Given the theorized associations of several
interlinked regions of the prefrontal cortex with theory of mind,
experience of social emotions, and self-reflective abilities (e.g.,
Beer et al., 2003; Berridge, 2003; Damasio, 1994; C. D. Frith &
Frith, 1999; Gallagher & Frith, 2003; Kelley et al., 2002; Macrae,
Moran, Heatherton, Banfield, & Kelly, 2004), such evidence sug-
gests a possible role for the self-system in the experience of social
emotions. Awareness and evaluation of the self vis-a`-vis one’s
social context may stand as a primary gauge for assessing one’s
place within changing social environs and, as such, may be intrin-
sically tied to the induction and regulation of emotions emergent
from social interaction. This view is buttressed by developmental
studies demonstrating age-related convergences in the appearance
of social emotions, individuated self-awareness, and theory of
mind abilities in human development (Dunn, 2003; Lewis, 2000).
With respect to jealousy, the role played by self-evaluation may
be quite specific. Given that the attention one receives from a
partner in a valued relationship is usually taken to signify self-
worth (Murray, Griffin, Rose, & Bellavia, 2003; Parrott, 1991; cf.
Leary & Baumeister, 2000; Leary, Koch, & Hechenbleikner,
2001), a partner’s interest in a rival stands as a signal that the rival
is superior in some way to the self, and, consequently, the integrity
of the present relationship may be threatened by the value the
partner places on the rival (DeSteno & Salovey, 1996b). Accord-
ingly, jealousy occurs not only when relationships are in the active
stage of dissolution but also in the lead up to such an eventuality
(Parrott, 1991). If jealousy is to prevent the usurpation of a
relationship, then one must be privy to the mental states of partners
in order to gauge what their behaviors indicate with respect to their
evaluations of possible rivals. That is, individuals must be able to
assess what, for instance, a smile or a touch signifies with respect
to their partners’ intentions and evaluations. These assessments,
then, may function to modulate self-esteem so that what consti-
tuted a relatively high level of self-esteem within the domain of the
relationship suddenly becomes threatened by certain actions of a
partner toward a rival. This threat, in turn, results in a negative
emotional state, jealousy, designed to redress the threat (cf. Tesser,
DESTENO, VALDESOLO, AND BARTLETT
1988). Of course, devaluations in self-esteem based on the per-
ceived approval of others may also lead to other negative emotions
such as shame (Tangney & Fischer, 1995). It is the coupling of
self-esteem threat with the appraisal that it stems from the presence
of a rival that provides the requisite factors for jealousy as opposed
to other aversive social emotions (e.g., embarrassment).
Protection of self-esteem, therefore, serves as an efficient proxy
mechanism for the benefits accrued through relationship mainte-
nance; its protection leads to successful navigation through chal-
lenges to the integrity of valued relationships and, in so doing, to
the protection of the physical and psychological benefits associ-
ated with relationships (cf. Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Leary et al.,
1995; Schackelford, 2001). Put simply, maximizing self-esteem
derived from the views of relationship partners safeguards the
more tangible resources stemming from these relationships.
Linkage of threatened self-esteem with jealousy also provides
an explanation for why jealousy is associated with aggression
(Mullen, 1996; Parker, Low, Walker, & Gamm, 2005; Paul et al.,
1993). As work by Baumeister and colleagues has revealed, threat-
ening an individual’s self-esteem has the potential to produce an
aggressive response, especially when that self-esteem is based on
external sources (Baumeister, Bushman, & Campbell, 2000;
Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996). Self-esteem threats based on
the evaluation of a partner certainly qualify as an external source.
Jealousy and associated aggression resulting from such threats,
therefore, can be understood to impel one to redress the wrong to
one’s sense of honor caused by the partner’s attention to a rival.
Such aggression, though normally not socially appropriate or ac-
ceptable, may nonetheless serve an adaptive function from an
individual’s standpoint if it does prevent the relationship and its
associated benefits from being usurped.
The Present Studies
As noted, almost all previous research investigating jealousy
and any proposed mediators has relied on predictions of jealousy
intensity to hypothetical events or on correlational methodologies
involving retrospective reports.
Such strategies limit confident
testing of candidate models of jealousy. For instance, our past
work investigating the links between self-esteem and jealousy
revealed that individuals believe they will be more jealous of rivals
who excel in areas of high import to these individuals’ self-
concepts (DeSteno & Salovey, 1996b). Individuals who, for ex-
ample, place great value on their athletic prowess predict they will
be more jealous in response to their partner interacting with an
athlete rather than with a musician. Taking a self-esteem mainte-
nance perspective, we argued that jealousy intensity is linked to the
threat posed by a rival along dimensions central to self-definition;
a partner’s attention to such a rival implies that he or she is
superior in the domain of import. However, without a measure of
variation in the proposed mediator in real time, such conclusions
are difficult to substantiate, especially when they are based on
imagined as opposed to actual experiences of jealousy. Several
other alternative accounts for our findings could easily be put
forth. For instance, individuals might be most jealous of rivals who
excel in domains important to their self-definitions simply because
they believe that their partners find people who excel in these areas
attractive. Self-esteem concerns might not play any role; individ-
uals might simply be making strategic judgments about which
potential rivals are most likely to peak their partners’ interests.
To address such limitations, the current experiments differ sub-
stantially from past attempts to link self-esteem to jealousy in two
important ways. First and foremost, rather than relying on retro-
spective or prospective reports of jealousy we had participants
experience a jealousy-evoking scenario in the lab through the
formation and dissolution of a working relationship. Though ef-
fortful to orchestrate, an in vivo experience of jealousy is neces-
sary to infer the causal linkages among the variables in question.
In addition to providing the ability to manipulate partner and rival
behaviors in ways that would not be readily accomplished through
the use of preexisting relationships, the use of this technique also
allowed us to control for idiographic factors that may have mod-
erated jealousy intensity if existing relationships were used (e.g.,
relationship duration, level of commitment). Although these work-
ing relationships represented new relationships for participants,
they were designed to be very enjoyable and productive. The
threatening of such a budding relationship by a rival, consequently,
would constitute a relevant scenario for jealousy.
Second, we decided to assess self-esteem with both implicit and
explicit measures; previous work in this area has only involved
explicit measures. Assessment of self-esteem through implicit
measures promised to provide a more accurate measure in the
present experiments given that an implicit measure is more likely
to reflect momentary changes in one’s evaluative stance toward
one’s self as a function of one’s salient contingency of self-worth
(Crocker & Wolfe, 2001; Greenwald & Banaji, 1995; Greenwald
& Farnham, 2000). Indeed, past research has clearly documented
the sensitivity of implicit measures of evaluation to changes in
context that make different features of a concept more salient
(Dasgupta & Greenwald, 2001; Lowery, Hardin, & Sinclair, 2001;
Wittenbrink, Judd, & Park, 2001). Therefore, as self-evaluation
within the context of the current relationship becomes the salient
contingency of worth, corresponding alterations in self-evaluation
should be readily captured by using implicit measures of self-
esteem (cf. Koole, Dijksterhuis, & Knippenberg, 2001).
It is important to note that in using an implicit measure, we are
not making any assumptions regarding a lack of conscious aware-
ness of self-esteem. As noted by Greenwald and Banaji (1995),
implicit self-esteem may be defined as an attitude toward the self
that is either inaccurately identified or outside of awareness. In the
present studies, individuals may have been aware of their views
and feelings toward the self in response to their partners’ actions
or, if not immediately aware, may have had ready access to such
information upon reflection. The primary benefit of the use of an
implicit measure is that it reduces bias stemming from either a lack
of awareness or motivation for positive self-presentation. Explicit
measures, given the static and more global nature of their ques-
tions, may not be as sensitive to context-induced flexibility. Con-
sequently, they may be less sensitive to the threats that our jeal-
ousy manipulation may produce. Threats to self resulting from the
manipulations we used would not be expected to alter self-esteem
for nonrelationship-relevant contingencies of self-worth (e.g., self-
Work by Volling and colleagues has examined sibling jealousy through
in vivo inductions with child samples; however, mediational hypotheses
were not examined in these studies (Volling et al., 2002).
JEALOUSY AND THE THREATENED SELF
evaluations that are based on intellectual, athletic, or other abili-
ties; cf. Crocker & Wolfe, 2001). Additionally, explicit measures
of self-esteem usually require a more deliberate consideration of
the self. Such measures, because of their greater controllability, are
more amenable to strategic attempts meant to obscure threats to
self-esteem (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995; Koole et al., 2001).
The basic structure of the two studies is quite similar and
involved the formation and subsequent threatening of a valued
relationship through the interaction of participants with two con-
federates: one playing the role of partner and one the role of rival.
The jealousy manipulation involved whether the partner indicated
interest in working with the rival and ended his or her working
relationship with the participant. Following this manipulation,
participants completed measures of self-esteem and jealousy. In
addition, the second study examined the links between jealousy
and direct aggression aimed at partners and rivals.
The primary goals of this study were to demonstrate that jeal-
ousy can be evoked in a laboratory setting and to investigate
whether jealousy is mediated by threats to self-esteem. As noted
earlier, the occurrence of jealousy is not limited to romantic
relationships; it occurs in relationships of all types involving a
valued partner. Accordingly, we expected that after participants
formed a novel and pleasant relationship with a work partner,
threats to that relationship posed by a rival should produce jeal-
ousy. Moreover, we expected that jealousy intensity would vary as
a direct function of decreases in self-esteem. The intensity of any
resulting jealousy can be expected to be relatively mild as the
relationship is quite new. Nonetheless, jealousy should occur
whenever there is a threat to even a budding relationship of
potential value and, thereby, provide an opportunity to examine the
functioning of this emotion in real time.
Forty-six female undergraduates at Northeastern University participated
in this experiment in partial fulfillment of a course requirement.
pants were randomly assigned to either the jealousy or the control
Manipulations and Measures
Jealousy manipulation. In order to induce jealousy in vivo, a complex
triadic interaction involving the participant was staged through specific
actions by two confederates playing the respective roles of the partner and
the rival. The details of the induction are noted in the procedure description
in the following section as they are integrated with the unfolding of the
experimental paradigm. In brief, a confederate playing the role of the
partner forms an enjoyable working relationship with each participant. At
a later point in the experimental session, the bonds of this relationship are
threatened and broken because of either the usurpation of the relationship
by a confederate playing the rival (i.e., the jealousy condition) or fate (i.e.,
the control condition). In all conditions, the partner was male and the rival
Implicit self-esteem. Implicit self-esteem (ISE) was assessed with an
implicit association test (IAT) based closely on that developed by Green-
wald and Farnham (2000). This measure has been shown to possess good
reliability and predictive validity with respect to both self-report and
behavioral measures (Bosson, Swann, & Pennebaker, 2000; Greenwald &
Farnham, 2000). For example, ISE measures that use the IAT have been
demonstrated to predict defensive behavior in response to threats to self-
esteem when used to assess narcissism in consort with explicit self-esteem
measures (Jordan, Spencer, Zanna, Hoshino-Browne, & Correll, 2003;
McGregor & Marigold, 2003). This measure has also been shown to
predict clinical status with respect to depression and susceptibility of
depressed individuals to contextual changes in self-evaluation and mood
(Gemar, Segal, Sagrati, & Kennedy, 2000).
In this task, the self-versus-other category was represented by 10 self-
relevant versus 10 nonself-relevant items. The evaluative attribute was
represented by 10 pleasant (e.g., joy, peace) and 10 unpleasant (e.g., agony,
vomit) words (see the Appendix for the complete stimulus set). Stimuli
were presented by using DirectRT software (Jarvis, 2004) on PC-type
desktop computers (Intel Pentium III, 550 MHz processors) equipped with
CRT color monitors.
At the start of the ISE task, each participant provided the self-relevant
information items (e.g., last name, student ID) in response to prompts by
the computer (see the Appendix for the complete set of prompts). Of
importance, these items did not possess any intrinsic positive or negative
qualities; any valenced associations would only arise through their asso-
ciation with the self. In order to disallow any sense of personal association
with the nonself-relevant stimuli, a set of 10 items matching the form of the
self-relevant items was provided for all participants (see the Appendix for
the complete list). The assumption of lack of any self-association was
checked both through the comparison of generated items and debriefing.
After providing this information, participants completed an IAT that
assessed self-esteem. Participants were instructed to categorize four types
of stimuli (self-relevant vs. other-relevant information, pleasant vs. un-
pleasant words) by using two designated response keys. Errors were always
noted by the appearance of the word error on the screen, after which
participants had to press the appropriate key to continue to the next trial.
Response latencies for error trials were recorded as the time from stimulus
onset to the time of correct categorization (Greenwald, Nosek, & Banaji,
2003). In the first block (20 trials), participants categorized items as
belonging to the self or other category. In the second block (20 trials),
participants categorized words as pleasant or unpleasant. In the third block
(20 practice trials followed by 40 critical trials), participants completed a
combined categorization task by classifying informational items as self or
other and words as pleasant or unpleasant by using the two keys (for a
randomly selected half of the participants, pleasant was paired with self and
unpleasant with other; for the other half, this pairing was reversed). In the
fourth block (20 trials), participants had to categorize pleasant versus
unpleasant words by using the opposite keys to those used in the earlier
blocks. Finally, in the fifth block (20 practice trials followed by 40 critical
trials), participants again completed a combined categorization task by
classifying information items as self or other and words as pleasant or
unpleasant by using the two keys. In this block, all participants categorized
self–nonself and pleasant– unpleasant stimuli in a manner that was opposite
to the stimulus pairing combination used in the third block.
To the extent that participants held a positive evaluation of themselves,
they should have been faster at associating self-related words with pleasant
stimuli and slower at associating self-related words with unpleasant stimuli
(Dasgupta, Greenwald, McGhee, & Banaji, 2000; Greenwald & Farnham,
2000; Greenwald et al., 1998, 2003). Scoring of the ISE measure was done
in accordance with the D algorithm developed by Greenwald et al. (2003).
Each participant’s D was computed by subtracting the mean response time
for Block 3 from Block 5 and dividing the resulting quantity by the pooled
standard deviation of the two blocks. The D measure may be conceptually
understood as an index of individual differences in the degree to which
The sample was limited to women due to gender constraints in the
DESTENO, VALDESOLO, AND BARTLETT
responses for the Self ! Bad trials were slower than those for the Self !
Good trials adjusted for individual differences in the variability of response
times. Higher D values indicate higher self-esteem as indexed by increased
difficulty in completing the Self ! Unpleasant as compared with the
Self ! Pleasant trials.
The D metric has been shown to be free from contamination effects due
to stimuli ordering and to group differences in task-switching ease (Mierke
& Klauer, 2003). Therefore, any resulting differences between the exper-
imental conditions that use this metric cannot be attributed to the effects of
simple distraction arising from the use of the jealousy manipulation. That
is, differences in D scores did not occur because the jealousy manipulation
simply occupied cognitive resources in the jealousy group (e.g., rumina-
tion) and, thereby, made it more difficult for individuals to respond to the
changing stimulus pairings inherent in the IAT.
Explicit self-esteem. Explicit self-esteem was assessed by using the
State Self-Esteem Scale (Heatherton & Polivy, 1991).
Jealousy. Jealousy was assessed by using a feeling state questionnaire
in which participants indicated the degree to which each of 10 adjectives
described their current state. The questionnaire consisted of both positive
and negative items, embedded in which were four items that specifically
targeted jealousy: jealous, angry, betrayed, and hurt (Cronbach’s "#.81).
Parrot and Smith (1993) have demonstrated that these feeling descriptors
capture the multifaceted experience of jealousy in a way that is distinct
from other related negative emotions (e.g., envy). Participants’ jealousy
scores reflect the mean score on these four items.
Participants were run individually for all sessions. Upon arrival at the
lab, the participant (S) was greeted by the experimenter and asked to sit in
a chair in front of a cubicle containing a PC. The room contained five such
cubicles with an accordion wall that partially expanded so as to separate
two cubicles from the other three. Immediately after S entered the room, a
confederate playing the role of the partner (P) arrived and was similarly
greeted. The experimenter then informed them that two other participants
were also scheduled to arrive and that they would therefore wait a few
minutes before beginning the session. At this point, P introduced himself to
S and began use of predetermined conversational probes that were de-
signed to initiate a sense of familiarity and liking. After 3 min, the
experimenter returned and noted that the experiment would begin without
the other participants.
The experimenter informed S and P that the study in which they would
take part was designed to examine differences in task performance levels
as a function of working alone or in pairs. Moreover, as some of the tasks
would be conducted on computers, the experiment would also involve S
and P taking two hand– eye coordination tests that would allow the exper-
imenter to adjust scores for individual differences in hand– eye acuity for
computer use. After the first such test, S and P would be free to choose to
work together or alone on the first problem-solving task.
At this point, S and P were instructed to turn to their computers to
complete the first hand– eye coordination task. In actuality, this task was an
IAT taken from Greenwald et al. (1998) that assesses positive attitudes
toward flowers versus insects. Its only purpose was to familiarize partici-
pants with the IAT so that it would require less instruction to complete the
ISE measure after the introduction of the critical manipulation.
When S and P had finished this IAT, the experimenter returned to the
room and provided instructions for the first problem-solving task (in
actuality, participants would only complete one such task). This was a
word unscrambling task. P and S were handed sheets of paper that con-
tained letter matrices at the top of each. The task was to find as many words
as possible that were contained in each matrix. After reminding them that
as there were only 2 of them they could choose to work together or alone,
the experimenter left the room. P then turned to S and asked if she would
like to work together.
The problem-solving task served only as a vehicle to foster the formation
of a pleasant working relationship. During the next 5 min, P’s task was to
ensure that S enjoyed working with him. He did this through repeated
smiling and the use of a set of verbal responses. For example, he would
provide encouragement (e.g., “let’s see if we can figure out this one”) and
validation (e.g,. “that’s a good one” and “I’m glad we’re doing this
together”) to the participant. After 5 min had passed, a knock was heard at
the door and the experimenter appeared from a side room to answer it. The
confederate playing the rival (R) then entered the room and apologized to
the experimenter for being late. The experimenter informed R that she
would complete the earlier hand– eye coordination task at the end of the
experiment, handed her a clipboard containing the materials for the word
scramble task, gave brief instructions for it, and left the room. R then
grabbed a chair and sat next to S and P. For the next 3 min, the three
individuals worked together. However, R was instructed to devote most of
her attention and interactions (i.e., validations and encouragements) to P.
At this point, the critical manipulation occurred. In the jealousy condi-
tion, P suddenly noted that he thought the experimenter said they could
only work alone or in pairs. After expressing concern that this could be a
problem, he went into the next room and asked the experimenter. The
experimenter and P returned to the room at which point the experimenter
noted that they could only work in pairs or alone before turning to leave.
P then turned toward R and asked if she would like to continue as his
partner. R agreed and the two moved to the other side of the room (i.e.,
behind the partially expanded accordion wall) and continued working
within earshot of S for 1 min. In the control condition, P suddenly noted
that he had an appointment at the campus medical center that he had
forgotten. He then went into the next room to tell the experimenter who
could be heard excusing him with the caveat that he return later to finish
the study. In this way, the enjoyable working relationship was severed in
both conditions. However, in one it was due to the presence of a rival and
in the other to consequences of fate.
At this point in both conditions, the experimenter then returned to the
room and instructed the individuals to turn toward their individual PCs and
to follow the instructions provided. Participants then completed the implicit
and explicit measures of self-esteem, the jealousy scale, and a question-
naire concerning demographic information. The confederate(s) always left
the experimental room before the participant had finished. Upon comple-
tion of the study, participants were extensively debriefed and given a small
gift of candy for their participation.
Results and Discussion
In accord with expectations, the termination of a relationship
due to a partner leaving to work with a rival as opposed to leaving
for a scheduling conflict was successful in evoking jealousy.
Participants reported higher levels of jealousy in the jealousy
condition (M # 1.65, SD # 0.89) than in the control condition
(M # 1.21, SD # 0.30), t(44) # 2.21, p # .03. It is instructive to
note that the variation in reported jealousy is quite large in the
jealousy condition relative to the control condition.
though the mean level of self-reported jealousy in the jealousy
condition falls in the mild to moderate range, it masks a high
degree of variability. Such differences in variability are to be
expected given the lack of jealousy in the control condition and
individual differences in self-presentational concerns related to the
stigmatizing nature associated with admitting to jealous feelings
In all cases except one, this proposal was accepted. Data from the
participant who chose to work alone were discarded from all analyses.
A t test assuming unequal variances for the two groups also showed a
significant difference in jealousy (t # 2.29, p # .03).
JEALOUSY AND THE THREATENED SELF
(Mathes et al., 1982; Wiederman, Allgeier, & Ragusa, 1995).
Nonetheless, the manipulation was quite strong (Cohen’s d #
0.73), indicating that the two distributions were relatively
Given that jealousy had been successfully induced in the lab, the
next question centered on the potential of threatened self-esteem to
function as the mediator of this emotion. In accord with predic-
tions, a partner’s leaving for a rival resulted in a decrease in
implicit self-esteem. That is, participants demonstrated lower ISE
scores when the partner left for the rival (M
# 0.55) than when
he left for an appointment (M
# 0.82), t(44) # 2.57, p # .01, d #
0.75. For ease of interpretability, Figure 1 presents the response
latencies in the ms metric for the IAT (Me ! Good and Me ! Bad)
blocks as a function of jealousy condition.
The extent to which
Me ! Bad response times exceed Me ! Good in the control as
compared with the jealousy condition stands at 120 ms, thereby
indicating a lowered association of the self with positivity in the
Examination of explicit self-esteem scores
revealed no differences as a function of jealousy condition. As
noted, this finding was to be expected given the broader focus of
most self-esteem scales across individuals’ sets of contingencies of
Demonstration of condition differences in ISE do not, of course,
directly imply mediation of jealousy by threatened self-esteem. We
therefore conducted a mediation analysis following the usual pro-
cedures (Kenny, Kashy, & Bolger, 1998). Zero-order correlations
and regression beta weights are shown for the predicted media-
tional model in Figure 2. As expected, significant zero-order
correlations existed among all three variables. However, when
jealousy intensity was regressed on ISE and condition, only ISE
remained a reliable predictor. Supporting the view of complete
mediation, the ability of the actions of the partner and the rival to
induce jealousy possessed no causal efficacy beyond that ex-
plained by the manipulation’s ability to threaten self-esteem (Sobel
Z # 2.08, p # .04). Indeed, as self-esteem decreased in response
to the partner’s interest in the rival, jealousy intensity correspond-
These findings provide strong initial support for the theory of
jealousy that we advocate. They represent the first direct evidence
of the role played by threatened self-esteem in the evocation of
jealousy. Of great import, they demonstrate a rapid decrease in
self-esteem in response to the favorable interaction of the partner
and rival that is directly associated with the intensity of jealousy
experienced. Nonetheless, given the novelty of the methodology
and findings, they bear replication and extension before greater
confidence can be placed in the proposed theory.
In this study, we sought not only to replicate the findings of
Study 1 but also to assess further the proposed theory of jealousy
through examining its predictive validity with respect to a frequent
behavioral correlate of this emotion: aggression aimed at partners
and rivals (Mullen, 1993, 1996; Parker et al., 2005). Finding a
positive association between the jealousy induced in our partici-
pants and any aggressive behavior would further support the
construct validity of both our procedures and model of jealousy. Of
greater theoretical import, however, would be the ability of the
Although we used the psychometrically more robust D scoring proce
dure for ISE, it is instructive to note that the Condition $ Block Type
interaction is also significant ( p % .05).
Karpinski (2004) has noted that use of IAT techniques to assess ISE
may be influenced not only by participants’ self-evaluations but also by
their evaluation of the target other. That is, participants’ ISE could appear,
as opposed to be, lower if the target other varied across individuals. This
concern is not relevant in the present case. The information about the other
(e.g., name, nationality, student ID) was constrained to be anonymous and
held constant across groups. Thus, any resulting group differences in ISE
must reflect changes in self-evaluation.
Figure 1. Implicit self-esteem as a function of the jealousy manipulation in Study 1. Error bars depict standard
Figure 2. Implicit self-esteem as a mediator of jealousy. Coefficients in
parentheses indicate zero-order correlations. Coefficients not in paren-
theses represent parameter estimates for a recursive path model contain-
ing both predictors. Asterisks indicate parameter estimates that differ from
zero at p % .05. Jealousy condition is dummy coded (control # 0,
jealousy # 1).
DESTENO, VALDESOLO, AND BARTLETT
experimental nature of our paradigm to examine the causal rela-
tions between self-esteem threat, jealousy, and any resulting ag-
gression in this triadic interaction. It is precisely the correlational
nature of past research that has suggested an association between
jealousy and aggression that has limited its ability to demonstrate
that jealousy causes aggression. Indeed, several plausible alterna-
tives exist. Specific individuals, for example, might be both more
susceptible to jealousy and more aggressive without one factor
mediating the other; threats to self-esteem might influence each
factor directly (cf. Baumeister et al., 1996; Twenge, Baumeister,
Tice, & Stucke, 2001). The inclusion of a direct aggression mea-
sure in the present study has the potential to illuminate proposi-
tions concerning the causal efficacy of jealousy to produce hostile
behavior and, in so doing, will provide a clear test of the proposed
model of jealousy.
Forty-three undergraduates (30 female, 13 male) at Northeastern Uni-
versity participated in this experiment in partial fulfillment of a course
requirement. Participants were randomly assigned to either the jealousy or
the control condition.
Manipulations and Measures
With the exception of the aggression measure, all manipulations and
measures were identical to those used in Study 1. Given that this sample
contained members of both genders, the confederate playing the partner
was always of the opposite gender to the participant; the confederate
playing the rival was always of the same gender.
To assess aggression, we used a paradigm slightly modified from that
developed by Lieberman, McGregor, and colleagues (Lieberman, So-
lomon, Greenberg, & McGregor, 1999; McGregor et al., 1998) in which
participants were given the opportunity to inflict pain on others through
deciding on the amount of hot sauce, a substance known to be potentially
painful and disliked by the target others, that would be placed in the others’
mouths. The primary modification involved changes necessary for assess-
ing aggressive behavior toward two individuals as opposed to one. The
details of this measure are explained in the procedure section below. The
amount of hot sauce was measured in grams by using preweighed contain-
ers on an Ohaus Adventurer Pro digital scale (Model AV212, Pinebrook,
NJ) with a maximum weight capacity of 210 g and precision of 0.01 g.
With the exception of two changes necessary for implementing the
aggression measure, the procedure was identical to that used in Study 1.
One change, involving a ruse needed to collect taste preferences for the
aggression measure occurred before the beginning of the Study 1 proce-
dure. The second, involving the opportunity to engage in aggression,
occurred at the conclusion of the Study 1 procedure. Between these two
events, the Study 1 procedure unfolded as previously described. The two
changes are detailed below.
At the start the experiment, the participant and confederate playing the
role of partner entered the room. After waiting to no avail for the arrival of
the “other participants,” they were informed that they would be taking part
in two unrelated studies: one investigating the effects of working alone or
in pairs on task performance and one involving the relation of personality
to taste preferences and acuity. At the start of the experiment, they would
first complete a brief personality measure (i.e., a bogus 5-item measure
asking about hours per day spent watching television, enjoying outdoor
pursuits, working on academic endeavors, etc.) and then a questionnaire
that was designed to assess their degree of liking for several tastes: sweet,
sour, creamy, salty, spicy, and fruity. Liking was assessed by using a
21-point scale ranging from 1 (don’t like at all) to 21 (extremely like).
Participants were then informed that later in the session, each of them
would be randomly assigned to provide a taste sample for other participants
of a single item from a smaller subset of these categories. In order to
provide an explanation for why participants would be making the taste
sample, they were told that this procedure would allow the experimenter to
remain blind to certain aspects of the experiment. After completing the
personality and taste preference measures, the remainder of the procedure
unfolded as in Study 1. The only modification in this section involved the
rival completing the personality and taste preference measures before
joining the participant and partner in the word scramble task.
After completing the remainder of the Study 1 paradigm, the participant
and the remaining confederate or confederates (both the rival and the
partner in the jealousy condition or only the rival in the control condition)
were told that it was now time to complete the taste preferences study. In
the control condition, the participant and confederate were told that the
partner had agreed to return to complete the taste preference study after his
or her medical appointment. The experimenter then handed each of them a
box that contained three food items, two empty sample containers, infor-
mation regarding the food item they were to prepare for each of the other
participants (i.e., the partner and the rival), the taste preference question-
naires of the two other people in the session, and the food category that
they (i.e., each participant) were assigned to taste. Participants were in-
formed that they would be allowed to see the others’ preferences as people
are often curious about what others’ taste preferences might be. At this
point, the experimenter told them that each person would go to a separate
room to place the samples in the containers. After everyone had finished,
the experimenter would return to each of them, place the designated
samples as produced by the other participants into their mouths and ask
them to fill out questionnaires regarding their attitudes toward these food
items. Of importance, they were told that the entire contents of the sample
containers would be placed in each of their mouths. At this point, the
experimenter told the real participant that he or she would create the
sample in the current room and offered the food item box. The other
confederate(s) was then led out to a supposed different location.
Upon opening the box, the participant saw the two food preference
questionnaires from the partner and rival. They had no names indicated on
them, but were identifiable by the first item: the gender of the person. Both
questionnaires indicated a liking of 3 on the 21-point scale for spicy foods
(on which 1 indicated no liking at all). After removing these question-
naires, the participants saw a written set of instructions, two sample
containers, and three labeled food items: sweet (chocolate syrup), fruity
(fruit punch), and spicy (hot sauce bottle with a fiery label and “hotness”
warnings). The instructions noted that each of the two other participants
(confederates) had been randomly assigned to receive spicy samples.
Participants were reminded that the others would not know who had
prepared each sample and that the entire amount in each sample cup would
be placed into each of the other’s respective mouths. Participants were then
instructed to pour any amount of the hot sauce into two containers labeled
male and female, respectively. They were then to place a cover on the
sample containers, place them in the box, and return the box to the
experimenter. At this point, the experiment ended and participants were
Results and Discussion
As in Study 1, the jealousy manipulation resulted in increased
jealousy, t(41) # 2.46, p # .02, d # 0.78, and lowered self-esteem,
JEALOUSY AND THE THREATENED SELF
t(41) # 2.08, p # .04, d # 0.64.
Participants reported more
jealousy when the partner left for a rival (M # 1.57, SD # 0.61)
than for a medical appointment (M # 1.19, SD # 0.35).
they also evidenced lower ISE in response to the partner leaving
for a rival (M
# 0.53, SD # 0.47) than leaving for an appoint
# 0.80, SD # 0.37). For ease of interpretability, Figure
3 depicts the response latencies in the ms metric for the IAT Me !
Good and Me ! Bad blocks as a function of jealousy condition.
The degree to which Me ! Bad response times exceeds Me !
Good in the control as compared with the jealousy condition is 141
ms, thereby indicating, as was the case in Study 1, a lowered
association of the self with positivity in the jealousy condition.
Once again, no differences were evident on the explicit self-esteem
In turning to an examination of the aggression measure, a 2
(jealousy condition) $ 2 (gender) $ 2 (target: partner vs. rival)
mixed ANOVA provided clear evidence for the predicted main
effect. Participants aggressed toward the partner and the rival to a
much greater degree in the jealousy condition (M # 3.41 g) than
in the control condition (M # 1.44 g), F(1, 39) # 8.60, p % .01,
d # 0.77. No differences emerged as a function of the target of the
aggression; hostility was aimed equally at the partner and the rival.
A main effect of gender also emerged; hot sauce samples produced
by men were larger on average (M # 4.24 g) than were those
produced by women (M # 1.67 g) across conditions, F(1, 39) #
8.31, p % .01, d # 0.87. This effect, though not explicitly pre-
dicted, may reflect either a stable gender difference in taste pref-
erence or portion allotment, or a more general tendency among
men to act more aggressively irrespective of provocation (Eagly &
No other reliable effects emerged.
The findings involving jealousy and ISE closely mirror those of
Study 1 and, in so doing, provide strong support for the proposed
role of self-esteem. Moreover, the demonstrated differences in
aggression provide the first experimental evidence documenting a
link between jealousy and aggressive behavior. Two important and
intertwined issues, nonetheless, remained. These involved a re-
peated demonstration of the mediational role played by self-esteem
in jealousy intensity and, more importantly, an examination of
whether jealousy resulting from threatened self-esteem would me-
diate aggression aimed at the partner and rival. To examine these
issues, we specified the recursive path model depicted in Figure 4.
In this model, each of the respective potentially causal variables
(i.e., the jealousy manipulation, ISE, and jealousy intensity) is
allowed to influence all downstream variables. That is, we allowed
direct causal paths from the jealousy manipulation to ISE, jealousy
intensity, and aggression; from ISE to jealousy intensity and ag-
gression; and from jealousy intensity to aggression. In this way,
the potential causal influence of each variable on those that are
subsequent to it in the causal sequence can be assessed, thereby
allowing us to test the viability of the proposed causal model. In
addition, given the influence of gender on aggressive behavior
irrespective of the jealousy manipulation, we also specified a direct
path capturing this relation. Aggression here was defined as the
mean level directed against partners and rivals.
AMOS (Version 5.0; Arbuckle, 2003) was used to generate
parameter estimates with a maximum likelihood algorithm. The
resulting model fit the data quite well, &
(3, N # 43) # 2.66,
p # .45; root-mean-square error of approximation % .01.
be seen in Figure 4, the causal chain that emerged matched the
predicted model: A partner leaving for a rival led to lowered
self-esteem, which led to greater jealousy, which led to increased
aggression aimed at the partner and rival. These findings are of
great import, as they not only replicate Study 1’s demonstration of
the mediating role played by threatened self-esteem in the evoca-
tion of jealousy but also provide empirical evidence of the medi-
ating role of jealousy in eliciting aggression. Threatened self-
esteem did not directly lead to hostility aimed at the sources of the
threat but rather engendered an aversive emotional state that, in
Although we did not expect participant gender to have any individual
or interactive effects on jealousy and threatened self-esteem, we also
submitted the data to a factorial ANOVA with gender as a second predictor
to examine this possibility. Gender did not differentially influence either
This difference was also significant using a t test assuming heteroge
neity in group variances (t # 2.49, p # .02).
A mixed ANOVA treating the IAT blocks as a repeated factor also
produced a significant Condition $ Block interaction ( p % .05).
A similar gender difference with the hot sauce measure was reported
by Evers, Fischer, Mosquera, and Manstead (2005).
Supporting this view, constraining the nonsignificant paths to zero
also resulted in a well-fitting model, &
(6, N # 43) # 9.86, p # .13,
and a negligible decrement in fit, '&
(3, N # 43) # 7.20, ns.
Figure 3. Implicit self-esteem as a function of the jealousy manipulation in Study 2. Error bars depict standard
DESTENO, VALDESOLO, AND BARTLETT
turn, led individuals to inflict pain on those responsible for the
The findings of these two studies provide evidence for a theory
of jealousy based on threatened self-esteem. In each case, a de-
crease in self-esteem occurred in real time as a function of a
partner showing favor for a rival, and, of central import, this
decrease directly mediated the intensity of jealousy experienced.
Jealousy, moreover, was shown to mediate actual aggression
aimed at partners and rivals, thereby providing construct validation
for our jealousy induction procedure and identifying, for the first
time, a direct causal link between jealousy and aggressive behav-
ior. As we noted earlier, previous work has revealed a link between
threatened self-esteem and aggression (Baumeister et al., 1996).
This relation, we believe, supports the identification of threatened
self-esteem as a principal mediator of jealousy, and in light of the
current findings, points to the important role that may be played by
emotion in mediating such outcomes.
It is also worth reiterating that our use of an implicit measure of
self-esteem is not meant to imply that individuals will not possess
a conscious awareness of lowered self-evaluation or a feeling of
inferiority. Our primary reason for the use of an implicit measure
to assess alterations in self-evaluation involves its sensitivity to
rapid context-induced changes with respect to currently salient
features of self. In essence, it provides a measure of self-esteem
that is responsive to whichever features of self constitute the
working self-concept at a given moment (cf. Crocker & Wolfe,
2001; DeSteno & Salovey, 1997). It is possible that a carefully
designed and validated explicit self-esteem measure targeted to a
self-contingency directly related to the individual–partner–rival
interaction might produce parallel findings. However, one would
also need to consider the influence on this measure of strategic
attempts to obscure evidence of feelings of threat.
Jealousy and Social Rejection
The present findings may indicate an important role for jealousy
in the study of social rejection. We believe that jealousy represents
a specific emotional response to a specific form of social rejection:
the actual or looming rejection by a partner in favor of a rival. In
accord with our expectations, the present findings demonstrate the
occurrence of this specific emotion and associated hostile behav-
These findings raise the question of how jealousy relates to
the expanding literature examining the phenomena of rejection and
ostracism (e.g., Leary & Baumeister, 2000; Twenge et al., 2001;
Williams, 1997; Williams et al., 2000). For example, work by
Baumeister and colleagues (Baumeister, DeWall, Nathan, &
Twenge, 2005; Twenge et al., 2001) has demonstrated that rejec-
tion often leads to several negative behavioral outcomes, including
aggression. It is interesting that findings demonstrating emotional
responses to rejection and their role in mediating subsequent
behavior have been more mixed. Research by Baumeister and
colleagues has repeatedly found little if any increases in self-
reported negative affect in response to manipulations of rejection.
Given that a motivation to engage in social relationships appears to
be a fundamental drive (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; S. T. Fiske,
2004), the lack of strong evidence for an emotional response to
relationship threats is somewhat surprising. However, recent work
by Eisenberger, Lieberman, and Williams (2003) has produced
evidence suggesting a link between rejection and a negative emo-
tional response. Participants in their study who experienced rejec-
tion from a social triad demonstrated heightened activation of
brain centers associated with the experience of pain.
One reason underlying these divergent findings may involve the
different methods commonly used to induce rejection. For exam-
ple, false feedback that one is likely to be lonely in the future may
hold different affective consequences as compared with active
exclusion by social beings. Another reason may involve a reliance
on measures of negative affect (e.g., global negative mood scales
that assess general negativity or dysphoria) to assess participants’
emotional states as opposed to more discrete negative experiences
such as jealousy. Active exclusion, for example, might well lead to
feelings of anger but not to feelings of anxiety or sadness. Mea-
sures of global negativity might therefore be less sensitive to
intensity differences in specific negative states (see Tracy & Rob-
ins, 2004, for a similar argument). To our mind, the type of
emotional response that is elicited depends greatly upon the exact
form of social rejection that is experienced. All social rejection is
threatening and to be avoided; however, the adaptive responses
and associated emotional states that are required vary depending
on the specific nature of the threat.
Similar mixed findings occur with respect to the effect of
rejection on self-esteem. Work by Twenge and colleagues
(Twenge et al., 2001; see also Baumeister et al., 2005) found little
evidence that rejection influences self-esteem. Yet, work by Wil-
liams suggests that self-esteem is lowered in response to rejection
(Williams, Cheung, & Choi, 2000; see also Leary et al., 1995).
Here again, we suspect that some of these differences may depend
Given that our composite jealousy measure did contain descriptors of
feeling items that might be relevant to any type of social rejection (i.e.,
hurt, anger), we also undertook an item-by-item analysis to be certain that
the reported jealousy differences were not stemming solely from differ-
ences with respect to these feeling states. Through the use of Stouffer’s
meta-analytic test on data from both studies, it is clear that the emotional
states experienced by participants were characterized by jealousy. The
jealousy manipulation produced significant differences on the items jealous
(Z # 2.30, p # .02) and betrayed (Z # 3.21, p % .01) and marginal
differences on the items angry (Z # 1.68, p # .10) and hurt (Z # 1.77, p #
Figure 4. Recursive path model specifying linkages among each predic-
tor and all downstream variables. Black paths and coefficients indicate
parameters that reliably differ from zero at p % .05. Grayscale paths
represent nonsignificant relations. Jealousy condition and gender are
dummy coded (control # 0, jealousy # 1; men # 0, women # 1).
JEALOUSY AND THE THREATENED SELF
on the manipulations used to induce rejection as well as on the
nature of the measurement of self-esteem.
The present research offers a unique perspective on these issues.
To our knowledge, there has been little research in this area that
has simultaneously investigated the causal links between the three
constructs examined here: self-esteem threat, emotional response,
and aggression. Rather, research has focused on subsets of link-
ages between these constructs. Some evidence supports each link:
(a) self-esteem has been shown to be threatened by rejection, (b)
rejection has been shown to produce aggression, and (c) rejection
has been shown to be emotionally painful. Several different causal
models specifying the relations among these variables could be
proposed on the basis of these findings. In fact, excluding the
present findings, there is no extant evidence that, as we would
propose, rejection leads to a decrement in self-evaluation which
leads to jealousy (in the case of rejection from an existing rela-
tionship in favor of a rival), which leads to aggression. Indeed, the
potential for a negative feeling state to occur and mediate aggres-
sion in response to social exclusion was examined only in Twenge
et al. (2001), in which little support was provided for this view. In
that study, however, negative affect was assessed by using a global
as opposed to a discrete measure.
Jealousy, we believe, may be a linchpin that holds many of these
phenomena together. The current findings suggest that it may
function as the warning and impetus to protect valued relationships
from being usurped. As self-esteem fluctuates in response to a
partner showing greater interest in a rival, it serves as a proxy to
assess the adaptive challenges resulting from threats to the rela-
tionship and, in turn, spurs a highly aversive emotional state
designed to shunt thought and action toward preservation of the
relationship. Jealousy, of course, is not the only negative emotion
that may result from rejection. The presence of an existing rela-
tionship is required for its evocation, but, as noted, one may
experience rejection in other ways as well. Other situations (e.g.,
refusal of admission into a social group) would, in all probability,
lead to the experience of aversive states but not jealousy per se.
The functional purpose of jealousy is intrinsically tied to behaviors
designed to protect the integrity of a relationship (e.g., derogation
of rivals, aggression toward partners and rivals). Given that rejec-
tion from an existing relationship due to the presence of a rival
stands as one of the canonical sources of rejection in human life,
the present findings suggest that jealousy may play a fundamental
role in linking self-esteem threats from interpersonal rejection to
aggression. Threats of loss not due to a rival may be expected to
engender other emotion-mediated behaviors aimed at maintaining
the relationship (e.g., greater attempts at attraction, tears or other
signs of a need for succor).
Integrating a Disparate Literature
At the outset of this article, we noted that the jealousy
literat ure lac ks cons ensus w ith res pect to a broad theoretical
framewo rk. Although researchers agree on jeal ousy’s phenom-
enology , consensus regarding its underlying causes and mech-
anisms has been muc h more difficult to find. To date, jealousy’s
causal mecha nisms have been posited to depend on evolved
sex-spe cific module s (Buss et al., 1992; Bu unk et al., 1996;
Wiederm an & Allgeier, 1993), stable idiographic traits (Brin-
gle, 1991), correlates of the attachment system (Collins & Read,
1990; Sharpst een & Kirkpatrick, 1997), self-evaluation main-
tenance processes (DeSteno & S alovey, 19 96b; Salov ey &
Rodin, 1984), and culturally learne d syndromes (Hupka, 1991;
Hupka & Ryan, 1990). Alt hough not constituting an overar ch-
ing theory, findings associated with each perspective clearly
documen t variability in jealousy as a function of individual and
cultura l differences.
In the current studies, alth ough we provided evidence that
threate ned self-esteem mediat es jealousy, we investigated none
of these other factors (e.g., cultural membership, att achment
style), leading questions to arise concerning whether these
dispara te findings can be integrated by using t he proposed
framewo rk. In considering this issue, it is important t o note tha t
any mechanisms that underlie jea lousy must evidence a high
degree of fle xibility. Individuals’ relationship partners, whether
they be love rs, friends , parents, or coworkers , regularly interact
with scores of people in myriad ways. Spouses socialize with
busines s associates, parents play with multiple siblings, and
friends have dinner with o ther friends. Sometimes such events
evoke jealousy; sometimes they do not. Some individuals ha-
bituall y react jealously; others often display a confident secu-
rity. Eve nts that cause jealousy among members of a certain
culture are of no concern to members of another. Therefore,
althoug h the interest of a partner in a rival stands as the mos t
basic factor in t he elicitation of jealousy, many influences may
functio n to modulate the resulting emotional experience. Thus,
in the f ace of such countless and seemingly irreconcilable
variant s (see Salovey, 1991, for a comprehensive o verview),
context ual plasticity must be the essence of any potent ial
It is our contention that a model of jealousy based on threatened
self-esteem readily provides a mechanism to allow for the incor-
poration of universal, dispositional, and cultural influences in the
determination of what types of actions by one’s partner evoke
jealousy and, thereby, has the ability to explain many extant
findings in the literature. For example, significant cultural and
subcultural variability exists with respect to the types of behavior
that evoke jealousy (Buunk & Hupka, 1987). Among the Todas of
India or the “swinger” subculture in Europe and the United States,
for instance, extra-dyadic interactions of certain types are accepted
practice (Buunk, 1991; Rivers, 1906). It is interesting that jealousy
is often staved off in such cultures through affirmations that a
partner’s extradyadic liaisons reflect recreational needs and not a
devaluation of the nonparticipating partner’s worth (Buunk, 1991).
Moreover, cultures of honor regularly view certain types of extra-
dyadic liaisons by one’s partner as resulting in one’s loss of honor
and self-esteem and, correspondingly, also accept and expect more
frequent aggression aimed at partners and rivals in such situations
(Vandello & Cohen, 2003). In light of these and other related
findings, a logical argument for the mediating role of self-esteem
may be made. For example, individuals reared in a culture of honor
acquire a heightened sensitivity to events that might result in a
challenge to their status or public standing (Nisbett & Cohen,
1996). Consequently, one might readily expect their self-esteem to
be more threatened by a partner showing interest in another,
resulting in the more intense jealousy and associated aggression
seen in members of this cultural group (cf. Vandello & Cohen,
2003). Similar actions by a partner, though certainly not pleasant
DESTENO, VALDESOLO, AND BARTLETT
to anyone, might be expected to result in a less intense threat to an
individual raised in a culture of law.
The case is similar with known idiographic effects on jealousy.
For example, variation in attachment styles has been linked with
differential jealousy (Buunk, 1997; Sharpsteen & Kirkpatrick,
1997) and with differential self-esteem (Bartholomew & Horowitz,
1991; Brennan & Bosson, 1998; Collins & Read, 1990). More
specifically, individuals who are not securely attached exhibit
more intense or frequent jealousy (Guerrero, 1998; Sharpsteen &
Kirkpatrick, 1997), lower self-esteem (Bartholomew & Horowitz,
1991; Collins & Read, 1990), and increased odds of aggressive
behavior toward partners (Dutton, Saunders, Starzomski, & Bar-
tholomew, 1994). Given that attachment styles can be conceptu-
alized as mental models of the self in relation to significant others
and that they have been found to shape interactions with valued
relationship partners at all stages of life (Bartholomew & Horo-
witz, 1991; Bowlby, 1973; Fraley, 2002; Hazan & Shaver, 1987;
Pietromonaco & Barrett, 1997), it seems likely that such models
may color the interpretations of a partner’s interactions with a
rival. Individuals whose attachment is characterized by more anx-
iety may be more likely to believe given interactions of their
partner with potential rivals signal a greater valuation of such
rivals vis-a-vis themselves. Thus, threatened self-esteem might
play a role in the relation between jealousy and aggression in less
securely attached individuals.
A similar argument may pertain to individual differences in
rejection sensitivity. Rejection sensitivity refers to a dispositional
tendency to expect, readily perceive, and anxiously or angrily react
to rejection (Downey & Feldman, 1996). In line with this ten-
dency, heightened rejection sensitivity has been associated with
heightened jealousy and aggression aimed at relationship partners
(Downey & Feldman, 1996; Downey, Feldman, & Ayduk, 2000).
Here again, a dispositional tendency toward rejection sensitivity
may exert its influence on jealousy through increasing the likeli-
hood that interactions by one’s partner with a potential rival are
interpreted as threats to one’s self-esteem; rejection, here, implies
a sense of inferiority to the partner’s other options.
Given the complexity and variability of human social systems,
we believe that threat assessment must be based on inputs from
multiple systems. That is, self-esteem threats must be assessed
with respect to universal, idiographic, and cultural determinants.
For example, becoming aware that one’s partner is holding the
hand of his or her sibling presents a very different threat possibility
than becoming aware of his or her holding the hand of an unrelated
individual. Similarly, specific interactions of men and women in
one culture may portend distinctly different consequences than in
another culture. Accordingly, self-esteem threat assessments may
be derived from appraisal systems shaped by universal signals
(e.g., nonverbal cues emitted by a partner and rival), idiographic
factors (e.g., attachment style, rejection sensitivity), and cultural
expectations (e.g., proscribed types of contact). In short, threats to
self-esteem may be jointly determined by systems working in a
synergistic or oppositional dynamic. Herein lies the benefit of
using self-esteem as a proxy to assess threat. Although the motive
to protect self-esteem (i.e., valuation by others) most likely stands
as a biological universal, tuning of the system with respect to the
factors that imply threat remains open for much input through
idiographic social learning and acculturation. Put simply, social
experience functions to fine tune interpretations of threat based on
one’s environs, resulting in greater efficiency at predicting and
preventing a problem of significant adaptive consequence.
Future Priorities and Directions
The present studies open wide avenues for examining jealousy
and its behavioral sequelae. As just noted, investigation of the
interplay of universal, idiographic, and cultural factors on jealousy
stands as an area of high import both for further validation of the
advocated theory and for increased understanding of the ways in
which such multilevel factors shape the experience of social emo-
tions in general. Humans are a social species, but we are also one
that shows large variation with respect to cultural ethos. Social
emotions, therefore, can be expected to be sensitive to these
interwoven influences and the unique requirements they hold for
These initial findings also call for replications involving rela-
tionships of a more long-standing nature. The ability to find
jealousy within newly formed relationships is not surprising. In
order for any relationship to become established, it must pass
through initial formation stages. If a motive to protect such bud-
ding relationships did not exist, the benefits that are yet to come
could not be realized. Consequently, jealousy aimed at guarding
such relationships makes great sense, as these initial stages may
represent one of the most vulnerable periods for filching by rivals.
Nonetheless, it will be important to assess further the degree to
which threatened self-esteem functions as the sole mediator of
jealousy. One could argue that the complete, as opposed to the
partial, mediation demonstrated for self-esteem in the current
paradigm may stem from the use of novel relationships. That is,
the loss of the partner to a rival possessed no risks beyond those to
self-esteem. The relationship was not associated with other bene-
fits or resources; there were no issues involving finances, mutual
friends, or progeny.
It is our expectation that more intense jealousy would occur with
relationships of greater value and investment. However, we do not
expect the causal efficacy of self-esteem to change. More intense
jealousy most likely results from the greater weight one places on
the views of well-loved partners in determining self-evaluation (cf.
Murray et al., 2003). It may be quite true that financial or familial
concerns with respect to relationship dissolution lead to intense
negative emotions such as fear or sadness. These emotions, how-
ever, are likely to occur whether or not a relationship is threatened
by a rival. Such concerns are relevant if a partner is ending a
relationship for any reason; they are not uniquely dependent on the
existence of a usurping rival. Jealousy, however, does require the
presence of a rival. Consequently, we would anticipate that emo-
tional experiences associated with threats to established relation-
ships may be experienced as more aversive because of both greater
jealousy resulting from threatened self-esteem and from the co-
morbidity of other loss-relevant emotions (e.g., fear, sadness).
Indeed, work by Drigotas, Rusbult, Wieselquist, and Whitton
(1999) has suggested that strongly valued partners exert a high
degree of influence on the shaping of an individual’s self-concept
through helping to define the nature of one’s ideal self. Conse-
quently, any implied threats to the status of this ideal self may be
quite painful and induce not only jealousy, but also feelings of
dysphoria and depression (cf. Higgins, 1987). Of course, to the
degree that relationships are characterized by strong mutual levels
JEALOUSY AND THE THREATENED SELF
of commitment and investment, the modal level of well-being and
the use of associated strategies (e.g., forgiveness) can be expected
to limit the occurrences, but not the intensity, of jealousy (cf.
Finkel, Rusbult, Kumashiro, & Hannon, 2002; Wieselquist, Rus-
bult, Foster, & Agnew, 1999). Consequently, we expect that an
examination of threats to established relationships, though much
more difficult to orchestrate, would result in a magnification of the
findings presented here and, thereby, increase their general-
Finally, development of additional measures of jealousy intensity
stands as an important goal for future research. In the present case, we
relied on the use of self-report measures of emotion. Although self-
reports of emotion have clearly been demonstrated to be a valid
assessment tool (Barrett, 2004), they are, at times, subject to self-
presentational concerns. In the present case, such concerns may have
led participants to underreport the intensities of jealousy they experi-
enced because of the somewhat stigmatizing nature of this emotion.
The development of alternative measures may be complicated by the
probable fact that jealousy, like many more complex social emotions,
is not associated with a specific, static facial expression (cf. Keltner &
Buswell, 1997). Nonetheless, it may be possible to gauge its intensity
through the coding of dynamic changes in expression and other
nonverbal channels that, when taken together, comprise the blended
phenomenological experience of jealousy (e.g., blends or sequences
of anger and anxiety). Indeed, the development and use of a multi-
indicator assessment of jealousy that combines self-report and non-
verbal measures with hormonal markers of emotional stress may
provide a window into jealousy intensity that is less constrained by the
methodological limitations associated with any of these strategies
used in isolation.
As noted in the preceding paragraphs, much work does remain
to be done. At present, however, we feel that we have obtained a
glimpse into the heart of the green-eyed monster. It is a heart built
on two fundamental and interlinked motives. The first is the desire
to feel good about the self; the second is the necessity to be
engaged in beneficial relationships for which the first serves as a
proxy. To sate these motives is to protect much that is important to
social living at all stages of life. To threaten them is to signal
possible problems of high consequence to well-being and, there-
fore, to whet the retributive appetite of Shakespeare’s monster.
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Stimuli for Implicit Self-Esteem Task
glory, gold, health, joy, kindness, lucky, peace, sunrise, truth, warmth
agony, corpse, death, filth, killer, poison, slum, stink, torture, vomit
first name, last name, birthday, birth year, hometown, home state, zip
code, home country, ethnicity, student ID number
Pat, Carter, February 28, 1968, CLEVELAND, IDAHO, 92473, CAN-
ADA, ROMANIAN, 978-25-8826
Received March 13, 2005
Revision received Nov. 8, 2005
Accepted Nov. 19, 2005 !
JEALOUSY AND THE THREATENED SELF