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This Personality Type Is More Likely To Cheat In Relationships

Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
Image by Aleksandra Jankovic / Stocksy
April 24, 2019

We like to think cheating happens because of a few bad eggs in the world hell-bent on spreading misery and pain, but the reality is, a substantial portion of the population is guilty of the offense—some research suggests one in five people have cheated on a partner in the past. If it’s such a commonplace transgression, are there certain people who are more prone to it? A new study published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal offers some answers.

Researchers surveyed 576 adults about their personalities, their cheating behaviors, and the reasons that deterred them from cheating. The personality trait that made people less likely to cheat? Conscientiousness—i.e. people who are very responsible, morally upright, and self-disciplined. That makes intuitive sense, of course.

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The personality most likely to cheat? People who are particularly open. At first glance, that seems obvious too: an open-minded person, someone who eagerly welcomes new experiences, would of course be someone more likely to find themselves intrigued by an enticing other. But consider that people high in openness are also the people who tend to be more creative and imaginative, more sexually liberated, happier in social situations, and also more inclusive of others—all qualities we typically associate as positives. That matters because if a lot of the personality traits we praise people for are also traits linked to cheating, it means we really need to rethink that whole “few bad eggs” theory.

“Cheaters don't wake up in the morning and think about how they want to hurt their partner that day,” certified sex therapist Dr. Tammy Nelson writes at mbg. “Many people who cheat aren't ‘bad’ people but simply people who've made decisions that have hurt others.”

The study also found a few other general trends around who tends to cheat: Women were less likely than men to be unfaithful, as were people in satisfying relationships (as opposed to unsatisfactory ones). There was also one other strong predictor of cheating behavior: cultural context.

“Overall, on the basis of our findings, we can predict that the least likely group to cheat are women high in conscientiousness and low in openness, in a satisfactory relationship and in a context where female infidelity bears severe negative consequences,” the researchers write in the paper detailing their findings. “The most likely group to cheat are men who are not in a satisfactory relationship, and who score low in conscientiousness and high in openness, and live in a context where male infidelity is not severely penalized.”

In other words we might all be partly to blame for why cheating is so rampant these days: a culture that is more accepting of cheating leads to more cheating. That means that although infidelity is in fact common, it doesn’t mean we should condone it or let it slide. If we want to create a dating culture with more empathy and less hurt, it’s important we call out affairs when they happen—not by criticizing the person who cheats as a “bad person” but by standing firm that the action itself is almost always unkind and necessitates some serious self-reflection and reform.

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Kelly Gonsalves
Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.

You can stay in the loop about her latest programs, gatherings, and other projects through her newsletter: kellygonsalves.com/newsletter