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Why powerful people are more likely to cheat

Six reasons why authority may lead to infidelity.

By Kristin Wong Nov 14, 2012 4:31PM

Infidelity has made headlines recently, but it's a story we've heard all too often: A man in a position of power manages to find time for a lurid affair. Nothing new, really, but the situation did serve to reinforce an odd but scientifically proven stereotype — powerful men cheat.

A study from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, for example, found a link between infidelity and influence. As the study's author, Joris Lammers put it.

 “The likelihood [of infidelity] increases the more powerful someone is.”

Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty ImagesRelated: 50 signs he's not that into you

Lammers analyzed the results of an Internet survey among 1,561 people. Of those participants, 58 percent held low-level, nonmanagement positions, 22 percent had some management responsibilities, 14 percent were midlevel managers, and 6 percent were executives. He found that the higher someone was in that hierarchy, the more likely they were to report infidelity.

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The finding was true for both men and women, but even the study's press release asked, "Why do we as a society not hear about more women cheating?" Lammers explained that it's because there are simply fewer women in positions of power. It may not be quite that simple, but more on that later.

MSN's The Heart Beat talked to licensed psychologist Dr. Kerri Shear Jaeger and posed the question: Why do powerful people cheat?

Jaeger outlined a few likely reasons why those in power often choose infidelity.

1. Because they can: Unfortunately, sometimes it's just that easy. Jaeger explains:

 "The opportunity just presents itself, and so they think, 'why not?'"

Powerful men may also find that the opportunity presents itself more, Jaeger explains. "A lot of people are really intoxicated by powerful people."

2. Boredom with married life: "[Cheating] puts a skip in their step," Jaeger says. If the powerful person feels their married sex life is boring, he or she may choose to reignite their libido with someone else. "They might actually think it's saving their marriage," Jaeger says.

3. A work spouse: "There are a lot of wonderful things about a [work spouse,]" Jaeger explains. "It's someone in the workplace that you spend a lot of time with and can trust." However, the temptation to cheat often arises. "It's very powerful at work because people spend so much of their lives there," she says.

4. A sense of entitlement: "Power causes a sense of entitlement and invincibility because a different set of rules apply to them ... they think that because they give everything to their jobs, they’ve earned it," Jaeger explains. The cheater might feel unfulfilled in their primary relationship, so they feel they're entitled to fulfillment somewhere else.

5. A sense of insecurity: Jaeger says this mindset is similar to the Imposter Theory: "They feel insecure inside and think, 'oh my gosh, what if they see the real me?'" In an effort to keep up the appearance they've created, the affair might help the powerful person affirm the identity they want to present.

6. Control issues: Cheating may "reinforce feelings of importance and being able to control situations," Jaeger adds.

Discussing why the behavior isn't as prevalent among powerful women as it is among men, Jaeger considered the double standards that may deter women from cheating. She explained that while there's often a "boys will be boys" mentality among men, infidelity is less tolerable for women.

Still, Lammers' study found that power did outweigh gender when it comes to infidelity. But Jaeger says that men and women react to their influence differently.

"Women don’t need the affirmation of their power as much," she says, adding: "And that's a generalization; there are certainly some to do."

Dr. Kerri Shear Jaeger is a licensed psychologist practicing in Minnesota. She specializes in working with divorced individuals.

Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty Images

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