Relationships aren’t easy. There’s a reason why only 50 percent of marriages last. However, out of all the myriad things that plague a relationship, jealously has got to be one of the biggest issues. Of course, a little bit of jealousy doesn’t do anyone any harm, but when it’s caused by a cheating partner, the whole relationship can come tumbling down.
For people who choose to stay with their partner once they’ve discovered their polygamous ways, it can be difficult to ever regain the same trust they once had in their partners. They’ll forever hear a nagging little voice in their ear which says: “Once a cheater, always a cheater.”
Of course, there’s another school of thought that says everyone makes mistakes, and that we should simply forgive and forget. But is that really the wisest advice? According to a new paper published in Nature Neuroscience, it would appear that the old idiom “once a cheater, always a cheater” is correct after all. I knew it had to come from somewhere …
The paper suggests that each time a person lies, the guilt surrounding their dishonestly is lessened. Therefore, if your partner has already cheated on you, there’s all the more reason to believe they’ll do it again. And again. And again. That whole breakup thing doesn’t sound quite so bad after all, does it?
So how did scientists figure this one out? Well, they were studying an area of the brain known as the amygdala, which provides a negative response when humans lie. They found that each time we are dishonest, the response weakens.
The study explained: “We speculate that the blunted response to repeated acts of dishonesty may reflect a reduction in the emotional response to these decisions or to their affective assessment and saliency.” In layman’s terms, this means that each time cheating or any kind of dishonest act takes place, the brain’s guilty response grows weaker and weaker.
Neil Garret, co-author of the paper, told Elite Daily: “The idea would be the first time we commit adultery we feel bad about it. But the next time we feel less bad and so on, with the result that we can commit adultery to a greater extent. What our study and others suggest is a powerful factor that prevents us from cheating is our emotional reaction to it, how bad we feel essentially, and the process of adaptation reduces this reaction, thereby allowing us to cheat more.”
He added, “with serial cheaters, it could be the case that they initially felt bad about cheating, but have cheated so much they’ve adapted to their ways and simply don’t feel bad about cheating any more. Another possibility is that they never felt bad about cheating to begin with, so they didn’t need adaptation to occur, they were comfortable with it from the get-go.”
Aside from the amygdala, the hormone vasopressin also has a big effect on whether someone’s likely to cheat. Similar to the “love hormone” oxytocin, the vasopressin hormone affects trust, empathy, and social bonding.
One study on vasopressin saw scientists injecting naturally polygamous animals with the hormone. They discovered that the animals were much more likely to stay monogamous. Another study of 7,000 Finnish twins found that cheaters had a variant in a gene that resulted in lowered their levels of vasopressin.
It turns out that being comfortable with dishonesty doesn’t simply affect cheating. It can affect every area of your life, including getting fired from your job, ruining relationships with your family, and hindering your ability to have any kind of meaningful relationship with anyone. However, thanks to science, we now know that it’s very difficult for cheaters to stop cheating. A leopard never changes its spots, after all.