Forbidden fruit may be sweet, as the old saying goes, but it can sure sour a relationship. Still, a new study suggests that if your partner's eye wanders, it might be best to just let him or her enjoy the view. Here, a guide to the research:
What was the study about?
Researchers tested the idea that we want what we can't have by conducting experiments on college students in various stages of romantic relationships. In a report published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the researchers say that "reining in a wandering eye leads people to devalue commitment and remember cute strangers better" — the same way "people want jobs they cannot have, salaries they cannot earn, and cars they cannot afford." That means that "you may want to think twice before slapping your boyfriend on the wrist for cocking his head at that hot girl who just walked by," says Andrea Uku at StyleCaster.
How was the research conducted?
In one experiment, 42 undergrads were shown pairs of faces on a computer screen; each pair consisted of an arguably attractive person and a more average-looking person. Some of the students had their attention subtly diverted from the more attractive faces. This group subsequently reported that they were less satisfied in their relationships and more open to infidelity than the other testees. A similar experiment found that students who were diverted from concentrating on the hotties actually remembered and recognized them more consistently.
So it's OK if your partner drools over other people?
Not exactly. If your partner does that while you stew in jealousy, "there's probably a larger problem at hand," says Meredith Melnick in TIME. And these studies do have some limitations, says Dr. John Grohol at PsychCentral. Most of the college students were in relatively new relationships, so it’s not clear if the findings would apply to older couples. The researchers also didn't track the subjects over time, so they don't know if the changes in attitudes led to actual infidelity or other relationship problems.
What if you don't even want to ogle others?
Some research has found that men and women who don't notice beautiful people of the opposite sex "tend to be more satisfied in their own relationships and are more likely to stay with their partners long term," says Melnick at TIME. The crux is that such "blindness has to come naturally," rather than being enforced by one partner.