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“Jealousy is a complex feeling shared by men and women of every culture and society. What differs from one setting to another and among different historical periods, are the norms and limits according to which such feelings are considered acceptable or not.

Although some authors disagree and consider it a “blended” or secondary feeling, most agree that it is very close to, if not itself, a primary emotion, such as anxiety and fear, designed to promote the survival of the species.

Its function is to warn that a sexual partner is potentially desirable and attractive, can betray the other, and strangers can jeopardize the stability of the couple. This is fundamental for the rearing of children, as they require specific care for a long time before they become mature and are capable to surviving on their own. According to one of its most accepted definitions, jealousy can be considered “a perception of a threat of loss of a valued relationship to a real or imagined rival which includes affective, cognitive and behavioral components.”

“Heterogeneity of the Jealousy Phenomenon in the General Population” is an Italian Study of the University of Pisa (Italy) by Donatella Marazziti, MD, PhD, Alfredo Sbrana, MD, Paola Rucci, DStat, Luca Cherici, MD, Francesco Mungai, MD, Chiara Gonnelli, MD, Enrico Massimetti, MA, Francesca Raimondi, MD, Maria Rosaria Doria, MD, Sabrina Spagnolli, MD, Laura Ravani, MD, Giorgio Consoli, MD, and Mario Catena Dell Osso, MD, PhD.

“Most agree that jealousy is a heterogeneous condition ranging from normality to pathology, with different degrees of intensity and persistence, and involving different degrees of insight. If the recognition of pathological jealousy, at least in its most severe (eg, paranoid) forms, is relatively easy, setting boundaries for the so-called normal degree of jealousy is an elusive, if not impossible, task. Furthermore, the rigid separation between psychiatric and psychological research focusing on pathological versus normal jealousy, respectively, has certainly not contributed to advancing its understanding.”

What have they discovered?

“Recently we carried out studies aimed at distinguishing between normal and obsessive jealousy. Following a theoretical, dimensional model, we developed a questionnaire called “Questionario delle relazioni affettive”, which resulted in the conclusion that at least 10% of healthy subjects are excessively concerned by jealous thoughts and show a specific abnormality of the platelet serotonin transporter. However, during these studies we realized that the realm of normal jealousy is quite heterogeneous. For this reason, we aimed to distinguish between four possible subtypes of normal jealousy (depressive, anxious, obsessive, and paranoid), identified on the basis of available literature data by developing a new questionnaire, “Questionario della gelosia (QUEGE). Statistically significant correlations were observed between demographic characteristics and the scores of the different dimensions. As expected, women and single individuals had a lower level of self-esteem and were more prone to obsessive jealousy. This is consistent with epidemiological data showing an increased prevalence of depression in women while obsessive-compulsive disorder is represented equally in the two sexes.

Gender-related differences in various items were also recorded. For example, men were more interested in knowing the identity of their rival and whether or not he was more attractive, while women were more concerned with the lack of closeness of their partner. Such observations are in line with the proposed difference in jealousy in the two sexes along the evolutionary perspective. Interestingly, younger subjects appeared more prone to paranoid jealous. This was not as expected since paranoia disorder is typical of elderly people. It is also surprising that longer relationships evoked more fear of being abandoned, instead of a greater feeling of stability. This may be related to cultural factors and to the sense of precariousness which seems to pervade personal relationships nowadays.”