Men Are Bigger Snoops. Why Is That?

Men check their partner's phone more often, study finds.

By Johannah King-Slutzky

According to a study by the UK-based Mobile Phone Checker, men are almost twice as likely as women to check their partner's cell phone. Surveying 2,081 Brits in relationships, Mobile Phone Checker found that 62% of men and only 34% of women admitted to snooping through their S.O.'s texts or call records. And 89% of participants across genders said they were specifically looking for signs of infidelity. The findings, which were reported by British newspaper The Telegraph, additionally confirmed that snoops aren't exactly quick to endorse their behavior. Via The Telegraph: "A third, 31 per cent, of people claimed that they would consider ending the relationship if they discovered a partner had been looking through their mobile phone. Furthermore, 36 per cent of those polled stated that they would never put themselves in a position where a partner could go through their mobile phone without their knowledge."

What might be accounting for the snooping gender gap? 

One reason for the disparity might be that men have historically been bigger cheaters than women. According to a highly cited study by Dutch psychologist Bram Buunk, men engage in almost all forms of physical intimacy with greater frequency of women: 26% of men and 18% of women reported having sex outside their marriage in the last year, and 17% of men and 14% of women reported having one or more long-term sexual relationships with someone other than their spouse. Perhaps, then, men are more likely to snoop because they're also more likely to cheat in the first place. In psychology, this is called the attentional bias.

While that's certainly a possibility, it's not a forgone conclusion. For one thing, women tend to categorize a broader range of behaviors as "cheating." For example, according to a 2010 study, women are more likely to lump lying and information-withholding in with sexual infidelity. What this means is twofold. For one thing, if a larger number of behaviors counts as cheating, there's a good chance that the idea of cheating will be triggered more easily. It's like saying that you're more likely to experience an allergic reaction if you're allergic to more than one food. On the other hand, perhaps it's the very looseness of "cheating"'s definition that keeps women from checking up on their partner-- if signs of cheating are frequent, you develop a high tolerance for all but the most glaring of evidence.

Another hypothesis is that men and women are simply taught from an early age to experience trust and attachment differently. Based on an amalgamation of several psychological studies, researchers from the University of Michigan suggested that having an anxious attachment style also predisposes you to search for problems in relationships that aren't really there. And yet a 2011 study found that men are actually less likely than women to experience anxious romantic attachments.

In fact, a high number of studies find that women are more likely than men to perceive cheating in their spouse. If the latest data is to be believed, that must mean that women are more likely to suspect infidelity but less likely to act on their suspicion by snooping. But again, because more women than men tend to be anxious rather than avoidant, there's a good chance that women do address their fears of infidelity-- but they do it in a more head-on, less avoidant way: simply by asking. And, of course, there's the fact that many women, particularly those of older generations, were simply raised to be accepting of their husbands' affairs. (c.f Mad Men, your grandmother.) This might also have something to do with a reporting bias: I'm always a little skeptical of studies that show some variant of men are from Mars, women are from Venus. But since it's a (thankfully, abating) stereotype that women tend to be snakier than men, I can totally believe that women seeking to counteract stereotype are just less willing to own up to evidence of their own slipperiness in relationships.

These are just hypotheses, and so far there's not a ton of research examining why women are more likely to worry about cheating but less likely to snoop. Got any theories of your own? Leave them in the comments.

Follow Johannah on Twitter @jjjjjjjjohannah

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