Date of Award

December 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Laura V. Machia

Second Advisor

Sara E. Burke

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Infidelity is an especially severe relational transgression that can act as a predictor of negative outcomes. Though the word “severe” may seem to imply that we can expect a degree of clarity when considering whether a particular behavior qualifies as “infidelity”, thinking of infidelity behaviors in that way might be an oversimplification. Whereas researchers have had some success in predicting the outcomes of and responses to infidelity, our understanding of infidelity may be complicated by a lack of clear behavioral indices for some forms of infidelity, namely emotional infidelity. The present study explored the specific types of behaviors that participants (n = 113; 610 behaviors total) generated as exemplars of “emotional infidelity”, and examined whether cheatingness (i.e. the amount/magnitude of cheating) of emotional infidelity behaviors was associated with different types of responses to the behaviors. Specifically, the cheatingness ratings were utilized to make inferences regarding the ambiguity of the emotional infidelity behaviors, to test a hypothesized theory of ambiguity. Participants were asked to report on how they would imagine responding to each behavior, and the primary outcomes of interest were: likelihood of breakup, likelihood of discussion with the partner, and confidence in responding to the behavior. Results showed significant linear and curvilinear associations between cheatingness and likelihood of breakup, as well as likelihood of discussion. Taken together, these associations appeared to provide support for a cheatingness effect, rather than providing support for a theory of ambiguity. However, results also revealed a significant curvilinear association between cheatingness and confidence in responding to the behavior, which appeared to support the hypothesized theory of ambiguity.


Open Access



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