I always perk up at data drawing correlations to the Big Five personality traits. If you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs style tests, you’ll have some idea of what this test evaluates. Unlike the binary nature of Myers-Briggs types (e.g., INTP, ENFJ), Big Five assesses individuals on a 0-100 scale on each trait. This lends a great deal more fidelity in its use. Not only that, but the 5 personality traits have a heritability between .42 and .57 (read: all have relatively high heritability) (Bouchard and McGue 2003). They’re also relatively stable across one’s life. As such, the Big Five have some relevance in examining individual human nature. So… I couldn’t resist when some Big Five data was smooshed together with some infidelity data.

Personality traits that predict a man will get cheated on (sample size = 717)

The MIDUS Study asked respondents if their spouse had ever been unfaithful. The Inductivist blog sorted out the personality characteristics that were associated with being cheated on. Without access to the data and/or more information about these calculations, I can’t really vouch for the data’s reliability, but here are their results…

Logistic regression coefficients

  • Extraversion .12
  • Negative emotionality -.02
  • Conscientiousness -.15
  • Agreeableness .40
  • Openness to experience .01
  • Age -.03
  • Social class .00
  • Religiosity -.27
  • BMI .00

(red = Big Five traits; bold = statistically significant)

There appear to be small effects involved with all of the Big Five traits. However, only Agreeableness rose to the level of statistical significance. Increased Agreeableness correlated with an increased incidence of being cheated on. So… what’s agreeableness?

Agreeableness is a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. The trait reflects individual differences in general concern for social harmony. Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. They are generally considerate, friendly, generous, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others. Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature. They believe people are basically honest, decent, and trustworthy.

Disagreeable individuals place self-interest above getting along with others. They are generally unconcerned with others’ well-being, and are less likely to extend themselves for other people. Sometimes their skepticism about others’ motives causes them to be suspicious, unfriendly, and uncooperative. –Wikipedia

Age and religiosity were negatively correlated with being cheated on.

Confounds and questions

This data could have just as many implications for the type of woman attracted to men with certain personalities as the implications for the men themselves. Are women who are more likely to cheat simply more likely to enter into relationships with agreeable men because they think agreeable men will be more likely to forgive them? Are women actually less attracted to more agreeable men? While not a direct measure of agreeableness, there is evidence that women aren’t particularly attracted to altruistic men (Phillips, et al. 2008).

The study surveyed men and women age 25-74. The age effect was only slight, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t something else going on here. The distribution of ages and ages at which infidelity occurred could seriously impact this number. The latter point could be particularly salient. For example, 74 year old individuals have had more time-opportunity to cheat and/or be cheated on. It’s not clear to what extent these variables (and others) were controlled for.

Evolutionary angle

According to parental investment theory, it would certainly be advantageous for women to practice (as always, not necessarily consciously) dual long/short-term mating strategies. If a woman is engaged in dual simultaneous strategies, establishing a long-term relationship with an agreeable mate whilst seeking genes from other men for reproduction would be statistically advantageous. This would likely be more pronounced during a woman’s peak fertility and for guys who aren’t as physically attractive relatively. Such a behavioral strategy could have evolved in women over evolutionary time. I haven’t seen any research on this question specifically related to Agreeableness.


Since the causal links for infidelity can’t really be drawn from these numbers, any prescriptive suggestions are bound to be speculative. Indeed, being religious probably offers a protective effect by a selection bias of the women doing the cheating (or not). Religious individuals who believe they’re being watched by celestial dictators also tend to avoid violating social norms for fear of punishment in the afterlife. It’s almost hard to imagine that men’s religiosity was specifically on the mind of women when making decisions to cheat or not. It’s feasible that fear of divinely sanctioned patriarchal punishment provides some disincentive.

Agreeableness for the sake of agreeableness appears to be a bad idea. Whether high levels of agreeableness tend to be unattractive, or women are selecting long-term mates based upon a forgiveness quotient in agreeable men is irrelevant early in a relationship. Signalling high levels of Agreeableness is probably a bad idea in most instances, especially if you’re in the early stages of developing for a long-term relationship. If you’re in a relationship that started off on an a foundation of agreeableness, you might try toning it down. In either case, there’s unlikely to be a significant negative effect of having your own opinion! If there is, you’re probably dating a psycho anyway.

Of course, being perfect helps. Barring that, the best way to limit the negative side of unattractive behavior is to get physically attractive.

Follow-Up: What personality traits were associated with women being cheated on? (Subcribe via RSS)

Bouchard, T. J., & McGue, M. (2003). Genetic and environmental influences on human psychological differences. Journal of Neurobiology, 54(1), 4-45. [full-text pdf]

Phillips, T., Barnard, C., Ferguson, E., & Reader, T. (2008). Do humans prefer altruistic mates? Testing a link between sexual selection and altruism towards non-relatives. British Journal of Psychology, 99(Pt 4), 555-72. [full-text pdf]


  1. Author
    @engrevo 13 years ago

    Maybe women were more likely to tell agreeable husbands that they had cheated?

    • Victoria 13 years ago

      That was my thought too… If women only (or more frequently) admit cheating to agreeable mates, that would skew the data. It would be interesting to poll people as to whether they've ever cheated on their partner and then look at the data from the partner.

    • Andrew 13 years ago

      Possibly. That's something that could have been controlled for, but I don't know enough about the methodology to say.

    • Duff McDuffee 13 years ago

      That's an interesting point. Jealous, vindictive, suspicious men are also probably more likely to be physically abusive when they find out their partner has cheated on them.

  2. Primate 13 years ago

    My summary– Women cheat on nice guys (because nice guys don't make them feel funny in their special area.)

    On the converse, women will continually bend over backwards (and forwards) to accommodate an asshole guy who gives her the hit of drama she craves; see any episode of Judge Judy: You can be sure that if the smarmy douchebag-faced guy standing across from the woman was a boring needy emo (high on agreeableness), she wouldn't have done whatever silly thing she did for him, and Judge Judy would not be screaming at her for being a dumb ho. ("You can do better! What's the matter with you!") It's always some gangbanger, some dipshit.

    "Agreeable" guys let women walk all over them, and they're boring. Weak men treat externally beautiful but internally rancid women as though they were angelic cherubs who could literally do no wrong, and deep down this is sickening to women. She would have to kill his dog, then kill his mother, and then ride his mortal enemy beside the two corpses for him to snap out of the rapture that has ensnared his faculties and made him abdicate his dignity.

    • Andrew 13 years ago

      I'm not sold on the common narrative that relies on the causal motivation of women craving drama. Higher value mates tend to be harder to get/keep because of the basic math of assortative mating. This may result in an appearance of a craving for drama, but I'd suggest that's just a byproduct of the increased difficulty associated with attempting to "control" (in the parental investment sense) one's desired partner.

      • Primate 13 years ago

        My response was fairly tongue-in-cheek, and I don't want to get off topic, but I could meet you half way: assortive mating is probably one of the main reasons for drama in a relationship, but I also think that agreeable men are inherently …cheatable-upon because they elicit zero emotional response, and the fairer sex are addicted to emotion (nothing wrong with that, before anyone bleats that I'm "sexist"). Agreeable guys are boring, they praise her virtues, they don't lather her emotions into a delicious foam for her. To compensate, often the woman will stir up false drama and ramp up the histrionics. A truly high quality (male) mate usually elicits the opposite in her: she becomes more coy and demure around him, because her emotional needs are being met.

        • Geoff 13 years ago

          I'm going to agree with MissChievousRN and say that it is more about leadership an dominance than it is about the spiking of emotions for the sake of the spiking of emotions. It is his leadership that causes her to become more coy and demure around him. Agreeableness is arguably in diametric opposition with leadership.

          • Dana 13 years ago

            Whatever. I don't need to be led, I can do that quite well by myself. Mind you, I like a guy who can make up his mind. But the minute he starts bossing me around, we've got problems. I don't believe in incest and you sure ain't my daddy.

      • MissChievousRN 13 years ago

        I grew up the goody goody straight a girl who dated the bad boys… it took me years to realize it wasnt the badness or the drama that i was attracted to, it was the implied strength and dominance… bad boys appear to stand out and be dominant over others, they appear to be powerful and unique and thus good mates… of course, in reality, this is rarely the case, but once you recognize the REAL reason you are attracted to the "drama", then you can seek that power and mating value in a healthier relationship that is just as exciting and satisfying

    • Dana 13 years ago

      Here's my experience. Almost without fail, the assholes I've dated expressed interest in me and pursued me. Have you ever been pursued by someone you found attractive? Flattering, isn't it? Frequently the assholes put their best face forward and never show you their ugly side in the beginning, too. They wait til you're emotionally hooked on them and then all hell breaks loose. And it is the ultimate mindfuck. Here you are crazy about the guy, and things were perfect a week ago and now all of a sudden he's treating you like shit and you can't figure out what you did wrong. Or, you *did* do something wrong and he's blown it all out of proportion. And the moment you start waking up and realizing he's being extreme, he turns on the Wounded Bird pity trip.

      Some women have enough fortitude to walk away when the shit first starts. These are the ones slinging stones at other women, making fun of them because they didn't "just leave." But a lot of people are abused in this culture from childhood onwards and never learn about appropriate relationship behaviors, and women are certainly no different. And these assholes deliberately look for the women with emotional issues because those are easier targets.

      Meanwhile the "nice guy" (if he really is nice–and some of them aren't, just quiet assholes) is over in the corner wishing the pretty girl would come talk to him. Again, which feels better to you–to be pursued by someone you find interesting, or to have to go chase them down?

      If you want someone to pick you over the asshole, you have to prove you're interested in her–and I don't mean declare your love for her on day one. The asshole doesn't usually do that. Learn how to engage in small talk. Take the time to find out more about her. And for pity's sake, nobody likes to be blatantly, openly worshiped. It feels creepy and icky. Treat her like a human being. That's all any of us ever really want anyway unless there's something wrong with us–and hey, if she's crazy, why are you chasing her?

    • Brittney 13 years ago

      Dear primate this was the funniest thing I’ve ever read ever. Thanks for making my day.

  3. Duff McDuffee 13 years ago

    Being agreeable may lead to increased cheating, but increased orgasms (for men and women) could lead to lack of long-term monogamy: http://www.reuniting.info/science

  4. Bennett 13 years ago

    This may be a silly thing to put out, but it could have more to do with the kind of women who will go in for a relationship with a disagreeable guy, rather than the agreeableness of the man himself. Dudes who are more go-along-to-get-along are, obviously, easier to like. It isn't as difficult to go through the day-to-day with them.

    More hard-nosed fellas, on the other hand, can be a bit more of a struggle. Takes some grit. So possibly there's a negative correlation between cheating behavior and whatever intestinal fortitude (possibly being a hardass herself) makes a woman not just attracted to but *compatible* enough for a relationship with the guy (bear in mind that this is about 'cheating', which would imply commitment).

    Just a little confounder that came to mind, as a result of my own dating experiences. It may be the popular misconception that 'weak' women like 'asshole' men, but I think that notion has more to do with beta males trying to console themselves.

    • PK 13 years ago

      I suspect a part of your first paragraph may be right. It could be that "agreeable" people won't actually break up with someone they're not happy being with (regardless of their partner's character trait) and seek a side relationship that does make them happy, whereas a person characterized as less agreeable may just end the relationship without having as many qualms about doing so. Cheating, at least in the foreseeable short-term, causes fewer interpersonal conflicts and disagreements, particularly in a long-term relationship or marriage where many assets are tied together and the relationship would be, financially and emotionally, more difficult to end.

  5. Samantha 13 years ago

    Conflict = great make-up sex and knowing that you still give a damn about each other. Someone who is less likely to engage in conflict would make a boring long-term mate. My 2 cents.

    • Bennett 13 years ago

      I'm with you, Samantha. Every relationship should have conflict, in a reasonable quantity, of a reasonable quality. Not like, dueling with knives or screaming about toothpaste caps, but if you never butt heads at all, either you're so synced up that it's just unreal, or you've both stopped caring enough to get into it anymore.

  6. Andrew 13 years ago

    A couple of these threads kind of touch on an interesting concept: "The Principle of Least Interest".

    The Principle of Least Interest: Inequality in Emotional Involvement in Romantic Relationships

  7. Todd S. 13 years ago

    Not about your post itself, but I tried reading some of what was written over at that Inductivist blog. His tagline says 'data, not doctrine' but my takeaway from the 3 or 4 posts I read was that he uses data almost exclusively to vindicate his biases. I found his logic deeply flawed in a number of spots, seemingly related to those biases (on politics and sexuality to name a couple). Just my $.02 (adjusted for inflation).

  8. Luke 13 years ago

    I am so totally screwed.

  9. Darshan 12 years ago

    It makes sense that guys who score high in “Agreeableness” get cheated on. The reason i say that is because those guys probably avoid disagreeing just to avoid conflict. However, many women may think that those men are afraid to stand up for what they believe in and Honestly if a guy cant stand up for what he believes in with a little argument how is he ever gonna stand up for her. Now i know their is way more to cheating than this but hopefully this point of view makes people look at it in a different way. Honestly though at the end of the day its simple if your are going to cheat just break up with them.

  10. Author

    […] Normally I pick a single blog post from someone’s blog and share it here, however, when I ran across Evolvify I quickly noticed all the posts are excellent!  I could single out the post on Alpha Males,  or the predictors for being cheated on for women, but only if I also link to the predictors for being cheated on for men. […]

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