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We've all seen the headlines about cheating footballers and love-rat actors – recent reports about celebrity super-injunctions and Arnie's secret 'lovechild' are just the latest twists on an age-old tale. But have you ever wondered why so few of these salacious stories feature women in the role of the unfaithful villain?
A group of researchers at a Dutch university did and they set out to investigate whether gender really is as big a factor as we think it is. Their conclusion, published in Psychological Science, may surprise you: when it comes to cheating, it's power, not gender, that's the most important factor.
The academics surveyed 1,561 people through an online questionnaire targeted at readers of a weekly magazine for professionals. They asked respondents to rate how powerful they thought they were and also measured other variants such as confidence, distance and perceptions of risk. "People often assume that powerful men may be more likely to cheat because they have risk-taking personalities or because of distance, such as frequent business trips that many powerful people go on," said Joris Lammers of Tilburg University. "We found little correlation between either of the two."
Instead, the study revealed that there was a strong correlation between power and confidence, meaning that the amount of confidence a person has links strongly with their capacity for unfaithfulness. And far from playing away being a male preserve, Lammers and his team found that, among powerful people, gender made no difference when it came to past indiscretions or in the participants' desire to cheat.
So why don't we hear more about women cheating? The only recent high profile case that springs to mind is that of the wife of former government minister Alan Johnson, Laura, whose affair with the police bodyguard assigned to protect them was made public earlier this year.
Lammers believes the answer is simple: there just aren't as many women in positions of power as men. "As a social psychologist, I believe that the situation is everything," he said. "As more and more women are in greater positions of power and are considered equal to men, then familiar assumptions about their behaviour may also change. This may lead to increased negative behaviours among women that in the past have been more common among men."
Other research backs up his claims that, given the opportunity, women are just as likely to stray as men. Reports in Psychology Today last year revealed that while the rates of infidelity among men have remained stable over the past few decades, at an estimated 50-60 per cent of all males across a lifetime, female infidelity has steadily increased. Current estimates put the rates of unfaithfulness among women at 45 to 55 per cent, bringing us almost in line with men. The difference, according to another study, is that women are better at keeping their behaviour a secret. Just ask Farrah Fawcett, who reportedly had an affair for 11 years without telling a soul.
So are men really more likely to cheat? Or do women just want them to think that? Have your say below.