Risk vs. Reward

Why Men Risk It All to Cheat

An admitted affair has crumbled the career of CIA Director David Petraeus, prompting the evergreen question: Why do people with so much to lose risk it all for sex?

In the last few years alone, several public figures, from former Rep. Anthony Weiner to action star and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have admitted to straying from their marital vows. In Petraeus' case, a miscalculation of risk may have contributed to the decision to cheat, psychologists say. "People tend to underestimate how quickly small risks mount up" because of repeated exposure to those risks, said Baruch Fischhoff, a professor of social and decision science at Carnegie Mellon University. "You do something once and you get away with it — certain things you're probably going to get away with — but you keep doing them often enough, eventually the risk gets pretty high." Even so, men can become blind to risk at the sight of an attractive woman, and from an evolutionary perspective, cheating can be a positive mechanism for ensuring gene survival, regardless of risk, scientists say.

Extramarital liaisons are especially risky for CIA employees with access to classified information, because an affair can leave the person open to blackmail. With risks like that on the line, could an extramarital affair be worth it? As it turns out, men may become blind to risk when an attractive woman enters the picture. This was true if the men were highly motivated in seeking new sexual partners. The blackjack risks seemed calculated to impress potential mates, said study researcher Michael Baker, a professor at Eastern Carolina University. More germane to high-profile affairs, Baker said, the risk of losing one's career or reputation is nothing compared with the evolutionary drive to reproduce. In that sense, while embarking on an affair may seem dumb, it actually shows something called "mating intelligence."

 

"These individuals have these very high-status, high-power positions, and the whole idea behind why people might be motivated to get these positions is because it gives them better access to resources that could be used to increase their reproductive success and attract more mates."

 

Kemo D. 7

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