Oh, beware of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.
By Anastasia Vikhanova (Bugle Team)
Jealousy… What was your first thought upon reading this word? I bet you thought about something negative and this is absolutely fair as our society neglects this feeling. As in, we all remember what happened to the Evil Queen from Snow White who was always jealous. From birth we have been told that feeling jealous will turn out bad for us in the end. This article will try to prove that romantic jealousy is essential, completely normal, and even beneficial sometimes.
Do we all have a brain disease?
Let’s turn to Wikipedia, as it usually represents the ‘social opinion’ about everything. It gives the definition of jealousy: an emotion, and the word typically refers to the negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something of great personal value (‘Jealousy’, 2014). Recent research has shown that jealousy could be linked to mental dysfunction; hence it could be a brain disease! Scientists from the University of Pisa discovered that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is not only responsible for learning and thinking, but also for particular emotions, including jealousy (Marazziti et al., 2012). By observing alcoholics, schizophrenics, and people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, they found out that when the biochemical balance in this part of the brain is violated, obsessive behavior arises. This is akin to behavior displayed during jealousy over a romantic partner. This is how people obtain the famous ‘Othello Syndrome’ – a “type of delusional jealousy, marked by suspecting a faithful partner of infidelity, with accompanying jealousy; attempts at monitoring and control, and sometimes violence (‘Othello Syndrome, Denial, and Delusion – Neuroanthropology’, 2012). The research by Italian scientists created controversy within the media. Journalists interpreted the researchers’ findings as a claim for jealousy being a sign of insanity. But wait… following Freud’s psychosexual theory (Freud, 2006) (e.g. Oedipus complex) every single human being must experience jealousy! This aspect of Freudian theory is generally accepted among psychologists and a lot of research has been conducted on childhood jealousy (e.g. Volling, Kennedy & Jackey, 2010), which provides evidence for jealousy being a natural state of mind.
The magic pill for… the lack of jealousy treatment?
While some researchers are sounding the alarm invoking us to control our level of jealousy, others recommend swallowing pills to provoke flashes of this emotion. Oxford philosopher Brian Earp supported the need for jealousy by proposing ‘oxytocin theory’ (Wudarczyk, Earp et al., 2013). It is known that the hormone oxytocin is released from the brain during processes such as lovemaking, cuddling, breastfeeding etc. The effect of this hormone strengthens attachment between partners. The philosopher proposed that taking pills containing oxytocin could make peoples’ relationships happier, hence saving one’s marriage. The main function of these pills would be boosting the attachment and reducing the amount of unwarranted jealousy creating a positive environment for ‘good’ jealousy. It is really important to emphasize that the pill would not eliminate jealousy, but would add more confidence for the partners in a relationship. Situations involving jealousy can be interpreted as both parties wanting to spice up a relationship. This avoids feelings of being controlled by a jealous partner. The administration of the ‘love’ drug is clearly not ethical and probably not feasible, but still gives us a hint of scientific explanation as to how jealousy could be important.
Are there any benefits of jealousy at all?
Even though most psychological papers define jealousy as a negative emotion, it is still possible to find some references to positive functions of jealousy. For example White, one of the key researchers in the area of jealousy, highlights increasing rewards, strengthening self-confidence, test of the relationship, revenge and punishment as positive motives of a jealous person (White, 1980). It is possible to find this idea in a lot of ‘popular’ psychology books about relationships, but it is still rare for ‘scientific’ psychology. Nevertheless, researchers apprehensively mention benefits of jealousy from time to time.
In the recent research it was revealed that jealousy is a very important part of couples therapy (Sheinkman et al., 2010). In the Sheinkman and Werneck article they elaborate on how a therapist could help couples identify their jealous vulnerabilities and get rid of them. But nevertheless, not get rid of jealousy itself, as authors consider jealousy to play a big part in a couple’s romantic life.
In conclusion, it is clear that every emotion is unpleasant for both the person and people around them when exaggerated. Hence, sick types of jealousy such as the Othello syndrome should not influence the overall image of this emotion. I agree with current research that suggests people should stop being afraid of jealousy. Furthermore, jealousy can be used as a tool for making one’s love life even stronger as long as the couple expresses the emotion in moderation.
Freud, S. (2006) Interpreting dreams. London: Penguin Group UK.
Jealousy. (2014, December 9). In Wikipedia. Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jealousy
Marazziti, D., Poletti, M., Baroni, S., & Bonuccelli, U. (2012). Prefrontal cortex, dopamine, and jealousy endophenotype. CNS Spectrums, 18(01), 6–14. doi:10.1017/s1092852912000740
Othello Syndrome, Denial, and Delusion – Neuroanthropology. (2012, October 17). Retrieved 18 October 2015, from http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2012/10/17/othello-synrome-denial-and-delusion/
Scheinkman, M. Werneck, D. (2010) ‘Disarming Jealousy in Couples Relationships: A Multidimensional Approach’, Family Process, 49(4), 486–502
Volling, B. L., Kennedy, D. E., & Jackey, L. M. (2010). The development of sibling jealousy. Handbook of jealousy: Theory, research, and multidisciplinary approaches, 387-417.
White, G. (1980). Inducing Jealousy: A Power Perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 6(2), 222–227.
Wudarczyk, O. A., Earp, B. D., Guastella, A., & Savulescu, J (2013): Could intranasal oxytocin be used to enhance relationships? Research imperatives, clinical policy, and ethical considerations. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 26(5), 475-484.