Attitudes and Behavior of College Students toward Infidelity

By Knox, David; Zusman, Marty E. et al. | College Student Journal, June 2000 | Go to article overview
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Attitudes and Behavior of College Students toward Infidelity


Knox, David, Zusman, Marty E., Kaluzny, Melissa, Sturdivant, Lakisha, College Student Journal


Six-hundred-twenty never married university students completed an anonymous confidential questionnaire designed to assess their attitude and behavior toward a partner's infidelity. Over two-thirds (69.1%) reported that they would end a relationship with a partner who cheated on them and almost half (45%) said that they had done so. There were no significant differences by sex of respondent, year in school, or age with regard to those who would or had ended a relationship with a cheating partner. However, persons who were in love, who had been emotionally abused and who had been physically abused were significantly more likely to have ended a relationship with a partner who had cheated on them. Implications for university faculty, therapists, and students are suggested.

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The Lewinsky/Clinton Presidential scandal focused U.S. society on the issue of infidelity (Peterson, 1998). Such infidelity is not foreign to spouses or to undergraduate university students. Twenty-three percent of U.S. adult husbands and 12 percent of U.S. adult wives report having had sex with someone to whom they were not married (Wiederman, 1997). Thirty-eight percent of the undergraduate respondents in Sheppard's et al (1995) study reported that they had been unfaithful (kissing, petting, sexual intercourse, spending time with another, becoming emotionally close to another) in their current relationship. The study reported here focused on whether university undergraduates would end the relationship with someone who cheated on them and whether they had actually done so.

Data

The data consisted of 620 never married undergraduates from five first year level sociology courses at East Carolina University who voluntarily completed an anonymous questionnaire designed to assess the respondent's attitudes and behavior toward infidelity. Among the respondents, 63% were women; 37% were men. Eighty-percent were first year students and sophomores; twenty percent were juniors and seniors. The median age was 19. Respondents were predominately white (87%) and African-American (8.5%) with 1% Hispanic and 3.6% "other". About half (51.7%) were casually dating while the other half (48.3%) were involved in a reciprocal love relationship. Ten months was the median number of months respondents reported dating their current partner.

Items 23 and 24 on the 24 item questionnaire were, respectively, "I would end a relationship with someone who cheated on me" and "I have ended a relationship with someone who cheated on me." Respondents were asked to respond on a continuum-Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. The category Neither Agree nor Disagree was also an option. Responses to Strongly Agree and Agree were combined as were responses to Strongly Disagree and Disagree. Individuals who circled Neither Agree nor Disagree were eliminated from the analysis. Five-hundred-and-eleven respondents acknowledged an agree or disagree position on ending a hypothetical relationship of a partner who cheated on them. Five-hundred and six respondents reported that they had or had not ended a relationship with someone who had cheated on them.

Findings and Discussion

Over two-thirds (69.4%) of the respondents reported that they would end a relationship with someone who cheated on them. There were no significant differences in sex (women vs men), year in school, or age of respondent with regard to expressed intent to end a relationship with a cheating partner. These findings are consistent with research by Sheppard et al. (1995) who found no significant differences between women and men undergraduates (197) on whether they were currently in a relationship with a partner who had been unfaithful. Previous research has also suggested that reaction to cheating is influenced by whether the nature of such cheating is emotional or sexual. Harris and Christenfeld (1996) found that women are more troubled by emotion al and men are more troubled by sexual infidelity whereas Hupka and Bank (1996) found that both men and women are troubled more by emotional than sexual infidelity.

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