Quick, in 10 seconds think of as many celebrities as you can who have allegedly been caught cheating. Go! Tiger Woods, Jude Law, Bill Clinton, Dave Letterman, Kobe Bryant, Eliot Spitzer, LeAnn Rimes, Hugh Grant, Bill Clinton some more, Jon Edwards, that guy Sandra Bullock was married to, Brett Favre, and now Kristen Stewart. Why is this so easy? Either you have an extraordinary knowledge of celebrities' love lives, or it really is a common phenomenon. So, why do they do it? Is it really Robert Pattinson's fault? Nope. They do it because they can.
Everyone may not be created equally when it comes to their opportunities to be unfaithful. In the case of celebrities, they have a high mate value due to their physical attractiveness, money, power, notoriety, or combination thereof. As a result, potential interlopers (i.e., home wreckers) find them highly desirable and are willing accomplices in the affair (because even D-list celebrities are still celebrities).
According to one prominent perspective in the field known as "interdependence theory", celebrities have a high quality of alternatives -- which means that if they weren’t with their current partner, their next potential partner would still be pretty great.1 Basically, if they crash their Mercedes, they would end up with a Bentley. Not surprisingly, quality alternatives undermine commitment. It turns out that celebrities have a lot of other fish in their proverbial seas. Unfortunately, this means that commitment and fidelity are not guaranteed, even if they have a fantastic relationship.
In one study, students at Southern Methodist University with lower levels of commitment at the beginning of the semester were more likely to cheat later in the semester.2 In a follow-up study, a different set of students completed daily diaries of their interactions over Spring Break (wouldn’t you love to read those?). Even over that short week, those with lower commitment reported more physical and emotional intimacy with potential alternate partners. So it may not be that us "normal folks" are more moral and virtuous, and thus more faithful. Instead, it may just be that we don’t have the same temptations and opportunities, or ability to capitalize on them.
This article was adapted from the book Science of Relationships: Experts Answer Your Questions about Dating, Marriage, & Family.
1Kelley, H. H., & Thibaut, J. (1978). Interpersonal relations: A theory of interdependence. New York: Wiley.
2Drigotas, S. M., Safstrom, C., & Gentilia, T. (1999). An investment model prediction of dating infidelity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 509-524.
Dr. Gary Lewandowski - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lewandowski's research explores the role of the self in romantic relationships with a specific focus on self-expansion. He has authored dozens of publications for both academic and non-academic audiences and is a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.