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A little byte on the side


Becoming emotionally involved with someone over the internet can have just as serious an impact on real-life relationships as ‘offline’ infidelity – especially in the eyes of women.

This is the conclusion of a study conducted by Dr Monica Whitty of Queen’s University Belfast, which is being presented today, Saturday 17 April 2004, at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference at Imperial College, London.

Dr Whitty asked 245 students to complete stories in which one partner from a couple had developed a relationship over the internet. These stories were then studied to measure whether or not the relationship was interpreted as infidelity, and the likely impact on the relationship.

A total of 51 per cent of the stories represented the betrayer as being unfaithful, while 84 per cent thought that the partner would feel betrayed.

Women were more likely than men to see emotional infidelity as the reason why an internet relationship would be cheating, and were more likely to see internet infidelity as damaging to the ‘real life’ relationship.

But explanations given as to why the scenario should not be considered as infidelity included that the interaction was ‘just a friendship’ and that ‘it could not be infidelity as there was no physical sex taking place’.

Dr Whitty said: “The results of this study show that couples need to be clear what the rules are when it comes to online cheating. Emotional involvement, even without physical consummation, can be just as damaging to a relationship.

“It might be easier for people to justify an online affair to themselves, but the consequences – like loss of trust or hurt – can be just as damaging as an offline affair.”

Alison Croft | alfa
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