Predicting Infidelity from Precise Personality Sub-Traits

New research looks at the particular facets of personality which make unfaithfulness more likely.

Grant H Brenner
6 min readDec 23, 2020


Photo by Wesley Balten on Unsplash

According to data reviewed by C.J.J. van Zyl, author of a study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (2021), the most common reason for breakups and divorce is infidelity. Betrayal wreaks the greatest damage on trust, striking love at its roots, undoing years of time spent building relationship, and casting a shadow on the future of shared satisfaction. While many couples weather the injury, many succumb.

Prior research shows that some factors protect against infidelity[1], while others make it more likely[2]. In addition, while for many couples, infidelity is a relationship-ending event, for other couples hidden — and sometimes openly secret infidelity — may help stabilize relationships.

The unfaithful personality

Given the crucial importance of trust in any relationship, and the need for exclusivity in monogamous relationships — which remain the most common in spite of a rise in mutually open relationships as a function of “less restrictive” sociosexuality— researchers naturally have taken a keen interest in understanding what personality traits may increase or decrease the likelihood of infidelity.

Van Zyl notes that the majority of research has looked at personality traits. In addition to the “dark triad” (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy), the Five Factor Model (FFM) or “Big 5” (OCEAN: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism) have been studies with infidelity.

There are consistent associations between infidelity and each of the Big 5 traits. For example, people who cheat in romantic relationships score higher on Neuroticism, Openness to Experience, and Extraversion. They score lower on Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. However, van Zyl reports, some work has shown different findings for Openness and Extraversion. There is more than meets the eye.

From traits to facets

Facets tell a more nuanced story. While work on personality traits is informative, what many do not realize is…



Grant H Brenner

Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Disaster Responder, Advocate, Photographer