Psychology Ph.D. student explores the age-old question, "Why do men cheat more?"

Department of Psychology doctoral student Natasha Tidwell recently received a great deal of media attention for her research on infidelity, which challenges the idea that men are more likely to cheat because they have less self-control.

“What we’re trying to answer is the question of ‘why,’” Tidwell said. “What’s going on under the hood, cognitively?”

To gather research, Tidwell conducted two experiments on both males and females, the first of which tested sexual impulses. Participants were asked to reflect on sexual temptation that was “off-limits,” or unavailable, in some way. The second experiment was a rapid reaction time task, to determine differences in self-control.

In the first experiment, participants were asked to recall an attraction to an unavailable member of the opposite sex, and then answer a series of questions designed to measure the strength of sexual impulse, attempts to control the sexual impulse, and the eventual result.

According to Tidwell, men reported experiencing a stronger impulse and acting on those impulses more than women.

“Impulse and control are not the same things,” Tidwell explained. “Men are more likely to act.”

Participants in the second experiment were briefly shown images of members of the opposite sex of various attractiveness, tagged either “good for you” or “bad for you.” The men and women were asked to accept or reject the person based on the computer-generated tags. The results showed that men are as able to exert control over their responses as women.

Ultimately, Tidwell concluded that men and women possess the same amount of self-control. However, men exhibited a stronger sexual impulse than women, and were more likely cheat.

A few media outlets have misrepresented the results of her analysis.

“Some outlets have been reporting that the results of our study is that men can’t control themselves,” Tidwell said. “That’s not at all what we’re saying. Men have stronger sexual impulses, not weaker control strength.”