Jealousy definitions

Jealousy definitions

A definition of jealousy is an attempt to identify the essential qualities of jealousy and distinguish it from other concepts.

The complexity of jealousy allows people to define it in different ways. Dictionary definitions describe popular meanings of jealousy. Scientific definitions emphasize aspects of jealousy that have received attention in theory and research. Despite differences in wording and emphasis, definitions of jealousy usually share basic themes. These shared themes indicate jealousy is a meaningful concept. Jealousy can also be distinguished from concepts such as envy.

Dictionary definitions

Dictionary definitions describe the popular meanings of jealousy. Several examples are offered below:

* The [ Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 10th Edition] defines jealousy as "a jealous disposition, attitude, or feeling," where the word jealous is defined as being
** intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness,
** disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness,
** hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage,
** vigilant in guarding a possession.

* The online edition of the [ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition] defines jealousy as "a jealous attitude or disposition," where the word jealous is defined as being
** fearful or wary of being supplanted,
** apprehensive of losing affection or position,
** resentful or bitter in rivalry,
** inclined to suspect rivalry,
** vigilant in guarding something,
** intolerant of disloyalty or infidelity.

* The [ Encarta] dictionary defines jealousy as "jealous feelings or behavior," where the word jealous is defined as being
** bitter and unhappy because of another's advantages, possessions, or luck,
** suspicious about a rival's or competitor's influence, especially in regard to a loved one,
** possessively watchful of something,
** demanding of exclusive loyalty or adherence.

* defines jealousy as "a jealous attitude" where the word jealous is defined as being
** bitterly or enviously competitive,
** suspicious of rivalry,
** fearful of being replaced, in position or in affection,
** protective, guarding.

* The [ Wordsmyth Dictionary-Thesaurus] defines jealousy as being
** envious or suspicious resentment, as of another's success, good fortune, or good qualities,
** suspicious or fearful of losing another's affection, being betrayed, or being bested in some rivalry,
** watchful in guarding or keeping something,
** in a jealous condition, attitude, or mood.

* The online edition of the [ Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary] defines jealousy as being "unhappy and angry because someone has something or someone you want, or because you think they might take something or someone that you love away from you."
Although these definitions vary in wording, they share several themes in common. All the definitions mention rivalry or suspicions of rivalry. All the definitions mention fear of losing affection or relationship status with a loved one. All the definitions refer to vigilance or watchfulness in guarding that which is loved. These themes form the common meaning of jealousy in popular culture. Popular culture also uses the word jealousy to mean envy, as evidenced by the fact that every definition mentions envy or bitterness over other people's advantages.

cientific definitions

People do not express through a single emotion or a single behavior. Darwin, C. (1872). The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. Retrieved July 4, 2006 from the [ World eBook Library ] . Also available from [] .] Clanton, G. & Smith, L. (1977) Jealousy. New Jersey: Prentice- Hall, Inc.] Bram Buunk, B. (1984). Jealousy as related to attributions for the partner's behavior. Social Psychology Quarterly, 47, 107-112.] They instead express jealousy through diverse emotions and behaviors, which makes it difficult to form a scientific definition of jealousy. Scientists still do not have a universally agreed upon definition of jealousy. They instead define jealousy in their own words, as illustrated by the following examples:

* "Romantic jealousy is here defined as a complex of thoughts, feelings, and actions which follow threats to self-esteem and/or threats to the existence or quality of the relationship, when those threats are generated by the perception of a real or potential attraction between one's partner and a (perhaps imaginary) rival." (White, 1981, p. 24) White, G.L. (1981). Jealousy and partner's perceived motives for attraction to a rival. Social Psychology Quarterly, 44, 24-30.]

* "Jealousy, then, is any aversive reaction that occurs as the result of a partner's extradyadic relationship that is real, imagined, or considered likely to occur." (Bringle & Buunk, 1991, page 135) Bringle, R.G. & Buunk, B.P. (1991). Extradyadic relationships and sexual jealousy. In K. McKinney and S. Sprecher (Eds.), Sexuality in Close Relationships (pp. 135-153) Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.]

* "Jealousy is conceptualized as a cognitive, emotional, and behavioral response to a relationship threat. In the case of sexual jealousy, this threat emanates from knowing or suspecting that one's partner has had (or desires to have) sexual activity with a third party. In the case of emotional jealousy, an individual feels threatened by her or his partner's emotional involvement with and/or love for a third party." (Guerrero, Spitzberg, & Yoshimura, 2004, page 311) Guerrero, L.K., Spitzberg, B.H., & Yoshimura, S.M. (2004). Sexual and Emotional Jealousy. In J.H. Harvey, S. Sprecher, and A. Wenzel (Eds.), The Handbook of Sexuality in Close Relationships (pp. 311-345). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.]

* "Jealousy is defined as a protective reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship, arising from a situation in which the partner's involvement with an activity and/or another person is contrary to the jealous person's definition of their relationship." (Bevan, 2004, page 195) Bevan, J.L. (2004). General partner and relational uncertainty as consequences of another person's jealousy expression. Western Journal of Communication, 68, 195-218.]

* "Jealousy is triggered by the threat of separation from, or loss of, a romantic partner, when that threat is attributed to the possibility of the partner's romantic interest in another person." (Sharpteen & Kirkpatrick, 1997, page 628) Sharpsteen, D.J., & Kirkpatrick, L.A. (1997). Romantic jealousy and adult romantic attachment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 627-640.]
These definitions of jealousy share two basic themes. First, all the definitions imply a triad composed of a jealous individual, a partner, and a third party rival. Jealousy typically involves three people. Second, all the definitions describe jealousy as a reaction to feeling threatened. Jealous reactions typically involve aversive emotions and/or protective behaviors. These themes form the essential meaning of jealousy in most scientific studies.

Distinguished from envy

Popular culture uses the word jealousy as a synonym for envy. Many dictionary definitions include a reference to envy or envious feelings. In fact, the overlapping use of jealousy and envy has a long history.

"The terms are used indiscriminately in such popular 'feelgood' books as Nancy Friday's "Jealousy", where the expression 'jealousy' applies to a broad range of passions, from envy to lust and greed. While this kind of usage blurs the boundaries between categories that are intellectually valuable and psychologically justifiable, such confusion is understandable in that historical explorations of the term indicate that these boundaries have long posed problems. Margot Grzywacz's fascinating etymological survey of the word in Romance and Germanic languages asserts, indeed, that the concept was one of those that proved to be the most difficult to express in language and was therefore among the last to find an unambiguous term. Classical Latin used "invidia", without strictly differentiating between envy and jealousy. It was not until the postclassical era that Latin borrowed the late and poetic Greek word "zelotypia" and the associated adjective "zelosus". It is from this adjective that are derived French "jaloux", Provencal "gelos", Italian "geloso", and Spanish "celoso". (Lloyd, 1995, page 4) Lloyd, R. (1995). Closer & Closer Apart: Jealousy in Literature. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.]
Perhaps the overlapping use of jealousy and envy occurs because people can experience both at the same time. A person may envy the characteristics or possessions of someone who also happens to be a romantic rival.Parrot, W.G. & Smith, R.H. (1993). Distinguishing the experiences of envy and jealousy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 906-920.] In fact, one may even interpret romantic jealousy as a form of envy. Kristjansson, K. (2002). Justifying Emotions: Pride and Jealousy.] A jealous person may envy the affection that his or her partner gives to a rival--affection the jealous person feels entitled to himself or herself. People often use the word jealousy as a broad label that applies to both experiences of jealousy and experiences of envy. Smith R.H., Kim S.H., & Parrott W.G. (1988). Envy and jealousy: Semantic problems and experiential distinctions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 14, 401-409.]

Although popular culture often uses jealousy and envy as synonyms, modern philosophers and psychologists have argued for conceptual distinctions between jealousy and envy. For example, philosopher John Rawls Rawls, J. (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.] distinguishes between jealousy and envy on the ground that jealousy involves the wish to keep what one has, and envy the wish to get what one does not have. Thus, a child is jealous of her parents' attention to a sibling, but envious of her friend's new bicycle. Psychologists Laura Guerrero and Peter Andersen have proposed the same distinction. Guerrero, L.K., & Andersen, P.A. (1998). The dark side of jealousy and envy: desire, delusion, desperation, and destructive communication. In W.R. Cupach and B.H. Spitzberg (Eds.), The Dark Side of Close Relationships, (pp. ). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.] They claim the jealous person "perceives that he or she possesses a valued relationship, but is in danger of losing it or at least of having it altered in an undesirable manner," whereas the envious person "does not possess a valued commodity, but wishes to possess it." Gerrod Parrot draws attention to the distinct thoughts and feelings that occur in jealousy and envy. Parrot, W.G. & Smith, R.H. (1993). Distinguishing the experiences of envy and jealousy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 906-920.] Parrott, W.G. (1992). The emotional experiences of envy and jealousy. In P. Salovey (Ed.), The Psychology of Jealousy and Envy (pp. 3-29). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.] Staff, P.T. (1994). A devastating difference. Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 1994, Document ID 1544. Retrieved July 8, 2006, from] The experience of jealousy involves:

* Fear of loss
* Suspicion or anger about betrayal
* Low self-esteem and sadness over loss
* Uncertainty and loneliness
* Fear of losing an important person to an attractive other
* Distrust
The experience of envy involves:

* Feelings of inferiority
* Longing
* Resentment of circumstances
* Ill will towards envied person often accompanied by guilt about these feelings
* Motivation to improve
* Desire to possess the attractive rival's qualities
* Disapproval of feelings
Parrot acknowledges that people can experience envy and jealousy at the same time. Feelings of envy about a rival can even intensify the experience of jealousy. Pines A., & Aronson E. (1983). Antecedents, correlates, and consequences of sexual jealousy. Journal of Personality, 51, 108-136.] Still, the differences between envy and jealousy in terms of thoughts and feelings justify their distinction in philosophy and science.


ee also

* Jealousy
* Jealousy sociology
* Jealousy in art
* Jealousy in religion
* Compersion - jealousy's opposite - empathizing with a lover's joy with another.

Related Articles

* Emotion
* Ground rules in relationships
* Attachment in adults
* Monogamy
* Open marriage
* Penis envy

Recommended Reading

* Staff, P.T. (1994). A devastating difference. Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 1994, Document ID 1544. Retrieved July 8, 2006, from

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