Priming the primal scene: Betrayal trauma, narcissism, and attitudes toward sexual infidelity

Orsolya Hunyady, Lawrence Josephs, John T. Jost

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We used mindset priming techniques to conduct an experimental study (N = 316) designed to assess ideas derived from psychoanalytic theory. Specifically, we investigated the possibility that the unconscious activation of the Oedipal situation would lead people-especially men and individuals who possess narcissistic personality features-to become more prohibitive toward sexual infidelity in romantic relationships. Results supported this hypothesis, which was tested using a new scale of attitudes toward sexual infidelity. Although men and narcissists tend to be more permissive towards sexual infidelity in general, when they are led to identify and empathize with the victim of betrayal, they become as disapproving of extra-dyadic sexual involvement as are women and low narcissists. Correlational evidence indicates that narcissism is positively associated with the likelihood of having affairs, the number of partners cheated on, and (for women but not men) the likelihood of being cheated on. In addition, the (self-reported) occurrence of parental cheating behavior is positively associated with one's eventual likelihood of cheating on others. Among daughters (but not sons), a history of parental cheating is associated with increased narcissism and the likelihood of being cheated on. Potential explanations and clinical implications of our findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)278-294
Number of pages17
JournalSelf and Identity
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Infidelity
  • Narcissism
  • Oedipal conflicts
  • Priming
  • Psychoanalysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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