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Jealousy is an emotion experienced by one who perceives that another person is giving something that s/he wants (typically attention, love, or affection) to a third party. For example, a child will likely become jealous when her parent gives sweets to a sibling but not to her. While the child's jealousy might be assuaged if she also received candy from the parent, such is typically not the case for a jealous lover, who wants the beloved to give some kinds of attention exclusively to him.

Some authorities (e.g., Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 1971) distinguish 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, the child is jealous of her parents' attention to a sibling, but envious of her friend's new bicycle.) This is problematic in that, e.g., a teenager may be jealous of the affection a rock star bestows on his fiancee, even though the teenager neither has nor thinks she has that affection herself. Others suggest that the key difference between envy and jealousy is the involvement of a third party: it is not merely that the jealous person wishes to have the attention for himself, or that the third party who is getting it would not get it, but rather that he wishes the person of whom he is jealous would not give that attention to a third party.

For this kind of reason, some have suggested that jealousy most centrally concerns one's perception of oneself. (Jeffrie Murphy, William Pennell Rock). The perception that a person whose evaluation matters a great deal to us prefers someone else can make us doubt our own worth.

Social psychology

The incidence of jealousy and the types of situations that give rise to jealousy vary markedly across societies. Margaret Mead reports a number of societies in which a man would offer his wife or daughter to others for sexual purposes, as well as cases in which "first wives" in polygamous societies would welcome additional wives as enhancing their prestige and lightening their work. She contrasts the Dobuans, whose lives were dominated by jealous guardianship of everything from wives to yams, with the Samoans, among whom jealousy was rare.

It seems probable that her attribution of these striking differences to social arrangements is correct. Stearns similarly notes that the social history of jealousy among Americans shows a near absence of jealousy in the eighteenth century, when marriages were arranged by parents and close community supervision all but precluded extramarital affairs. As these social arrangements were gradually supplanted by the practice of dating several potential partners before marriage and by more fluid and anonymous living arrangements, jealousy as a social phenomenon correspondingly increased.

By the late 1960s and the 1970s, jealousy -- particularly sexual jealousy -- had come to be seen as both irrational and shameful in some quarters, particularly among advocates of free love. Advocates and practitioners of non-exclusive sexual relationships, believing that they ought not to be jealous, sought to banish or deny jealous reactions to their partners' sexual involvement with others. Many found this unexpectedly difficult, though for others, conscious blocking of the jealous reaction is relatively easy from the start, and over time the reaction can be effectively extinguished. Some studies suggest that jealousy may be reduced in multilateral relationships where there is a clear hierarchy of relationships or where expectations are otherwise fixed. (See Smith and Smith, Beyond Monogamy.) Contemporary practitioners of what is now called polyamory (multiple intimate relationships) for the most part treat jealousy as an inevitable problem, best handled by accommodation and communication. In mainstream society, although jealousy still carries connotations of insecurity, there is a greater tendency to accept it as a normal and expected reaction to a relationship threat.

Individual coping

Where jealousy produces excessive discomfort or relationship difficulties, several strategies are available to reduce it. These include desensitization through controlled exposure to the jealousy-producing stimulus, revision of the underlying judgments (where these are irrational) through cognitive therapy, unearthing and addressing childhood conflicts that predispose one to jealousy, and changing the dynamics of the relationship to disrupt the jealousy-producing cycle. (Malach-Pines, Romantic Jealousy.)


The word stems from the French jalousie, formed from jaloux (jealous), and further from Low Latin zelosus (full of zeal), and from the Greek word for "ardour, zeal" (with a root connoting "to boil, ferment"; or "yeast"), originally a condition of zealous emulation.

The jealousy of God, as in Exodus xx. 5, "For I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God," has been defined by Pusey (Minor Prophets, 1860) as the attribute "whereby he does not endure the love of his creatures to be transferred from him".

"Jealous", by etymology, is however, only another form of "zealous", and the identity is exemplified by such expressions as "I have been very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts" (i Kings xix. 10).

Other usages

A kind of glass, thick, ribbed and non-transparent, was formerly known as "jealous-glass," and this application is seen in the borrowed French word jalousie, a blind or shutter, made of slats of wood, which slope in such a way as to admit air and a certain amount of light, while excluding rain and sun and inspection from without. Alain Robbe-Grillet's novel Jalousie plays on this usage.

The information above is not intended for and should not be used as a substitute for the diagnosis and/or treatment by a licensed, qualified, health-care professional. This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It incorporates material originating from the Wikipedia article "Jealousy".

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