Interdisciplinary perspectives on jealousy

July 12th Room 2
Arina Pismenny (Utah State University) & Ronald de Sousa (University of Toronto)

In philosophy, a crucial question concerns the extent to which jealousy is "natural", rather than a consequence of socially relative ideological commitments about gender roles, or social norms governing love and relationships. The answer will have an important bearing on the core philosophical question of the value of jealousy as an avowable emotion, and its possible alternatives. But we philosophers are ill-equipped to answer that question on our own. Scientific perspectives have an important contribution to make. In this symposium we will look forward to hearing from Sybil Hart about infants’ and toddlers’ responses to differential treatment, their implications for jealousy’s "normative" status, and the connection between jealousy and “attachment behavior.” Christine Harris will present a functional motivational account of jealousy, proposing that jealousy has evolved, and will discuss factors that produce functional vs. dysfunctional outcomes. Donatella Marazziti's contribution will tell us what neuroscience can teach us about the biological mechanisms in functioning and in pathological jealousy. Aaron Ben-Ze'ev will draw our attention more directly towards philosophical issues of value, by contrasting jealousy with compersion—the joy felt in your partner's romantic or sexual intimacy with someone else. Compersion has been of increasing interest in philosophy, but has not drawn much attention in experimental science. When and how might it replace jealousy? Which emotion is closer to romantic love? Finally, Arina Pismenny will perform as a discussant, and attempt to pull together what each of the individual disciplines concerned can take home from the interdisciplinary perspectives involved.

Jealousy and Compersion 

Aaron Ben-Ze'ev

“Compersion” refers to the joy felt in your partner's romantic or sexual intimacy with someone else. Although of increasing interest in philosophy, compersion has not drawn much attention in experimental science. When and how might it replace jealousy? Which emotion is closer to romantic love (Hart & Legerstee, Jealousy, 2010)? Our emotions toward the good fortune of others can be divided into those in which our evaluation conflicts with the other’s evaluation, such as jealousy and envy, and those in which the two evaluations correlate, such as “happy-for” and admiration. At the basis of the difference is the opposing impact on self-esteem. Compersion is not a new emotion, but a kind of “happy-for.” Jealousy, which involves the fear of losing to someone something personally precious, includes a painful threat to our self-esteem that lead some men to kill their partners (Ben-Ze’ev & Goussinsky, In the Name of Love, 2008). Although jealousy is much more common than compersion, compersion is not conceptually impossible. A spouse might experience compersion in the following circumstances: low sexual intensity in the relation; differences between the spouse and the lover; the spouse is also having an affair; and the spouse is heavily occupied with nonromantic activities (Ben-Ze’ev, The Arc of Love, 2019). Compersion can be valuable in some circumstances, for some people - if such circumstances are not harmful in other ways. Making our partner happy is, after all, what underlies profound love (De Sousa, “Love, Jealousy, and Compersion,” 2018).

The Nature and Origin of Jealousy: Clues from Research with Infants 

Sybil Hart

This talk begins by presenting evidence of jealousy in the first year. We show that infants are more perturbed when the object of maternal attention is a lifelike baby doll versus a non-social object, or when the adult directing attention to the baby doll is the infant’s mother versus a stranger. Also, infants’ capacities for self-regulation are especially challenged by the “mother-baby doll” condition. Given the limited experience of infants, including first-born 6-month-olds, the perturbations cannot be attributed simply to history of exposure to differential treatment. Thus, we have attributed them to an innately-based sensitivity, and argue further, that in light of jealousy’s unique manner of presentation, it is distinctive of other affective states. Next, we examine the exceptionally wide range of individual differences in infants’ presentations of “jealousy protest”. We show that styles which are statistically atypical are also those which are associated with risk factors, including insecure attachment, maternal depression, and maternal non-optimal interaction behavior. We propose that by identifying jealousy’s typical pattern of expression, infancy research stands to offer an empirical basis for defining normativity. Finally, the normative pattern of response is a presentation that mirrors separation protest in several observable and unobservable ways. We conclude by discussing parallels between jealousy protest and separation protest. We then theorize that they also have a common origin, which is, threat posed by the birth of a sibling, and a common purpose, restoring exclusivity

Physiological vs. pathological jelaousy: an unrsolved never-ending puzzle 

Donatella Marazziti

Jealousy is a complex and heterogenous emotion characterized by the perception of a threat of loss of something that the person values, particularly in reference to a relationship with a loved one, which includes affective, cognitive, and behavioral components. It may be ranging from normality to pathology and several problems still exist in the distinction between normal and pathological jealousy. With the present study, we aimed to contribute to the definition of the boundary between obsessional and normal jealousy by means of a specific self-report questionnaire developed by us. Two hundred and forty-five subjects were enrolled. The statistical analyses showed that patients with OCD had higher total scores than healthy subjects. It was possible to identify an intermediate group of subjects, corresponding to 10% of the total, who were concerned by jealousy thoughts around the partner, but at a lower degree than patients, and that we called “healthy jealous subjects” because they had no other psychopathological trait. Our study showed that 10% of a population of university students, albeit normal, have jealousy thoughts around the partner, as emerged by the specific questionnaire developed by us. This instrument permitted to clearly distinguish these subjects from patients with OCD and healthy subjects with no jealousy concern. In any case, empirical investigation of the neural bases of jealousy is just beginning, and further studies are strongly needed to elucidate the biological roots of this complex emotion.