How Flirting in Virtual Reality Can Prevent Infidelity
A new study suggests that virtual reality might prevent your romantic partner from cheating — and not just because no one wants to have sex with a dork wearing one of those headsets. Nope, the real reason VR could help decrease the risk of infidelity is the same reason why moms intentionally let their kids contract chicken pox from siblings: Exposure decreases the likelihood of it becoming a threat in the future.
Researchers recently applied this same logic, aka “inoculation theorizing,” to cheating, hypothesizing that if people are rarely exposed to the option of being unfaithful, they may be more likely to buckle. But if committed couples could practice being hit on more often, they could build up their mental defense against temptation.
Using a VR bartender, the researchers tested their theory in three experiments. The first included 65 men and 65 women who were paired up with a bartender of the same gender as their significant others. The only difference was half of them had a flirty bartender who made more eye contact and gave them more compliments, while the other half had a bartender who slung drinks sans eye contact and compliments.
Next, participants were interviewed by a research assistant who was also the same gender as their partner and who “had been pilot tested with judges who rated their photo on five adjectives: sexually desirable, sensual, ‘hot,’ attractive and sexually exciting.” The interviewers were also trained to show warmth by talking in close proximity and making frequent eye contact. Much like a date, they started with neutral questions about the person’s hobbies and career plans, but then escalated to more flirtatious questions like, “Is it possible to find a true love online?”
Finally, participants completed questionnaires about how guilty they felt about flirting with the bartender, and whether or not they found the interviewer attractive. The second and third studies followed the same format — first with 139 students, and then with 134 couples who had been dating for longer than four months. The difference between the two studies was that after the students flirted with the bartenders, they had to build a pyramid with plastic cups with the hot research assistants, who were told to clumsily knock over the pyramid and ask for help fixing it.
Meanwhile, after the couples engaged with the flirty bartender, they were reunited and asked to discuss how satisfied they were with their sex lives face-to-face, and then privately surveyed about how attracted they were to their partners.
Following the flirtatious encounters with the fictional bartenders, participants across the board were more likely to feel guilty afterwards, downgrade the attractiveness of the research assistants, be less helpful with building the pyramid and report greater levels of desire for their romantic partners.
“Overall, our research deepens understanding of how couples maintain satisfying and stable relationships in the face of tempting alternatives, indicating that exposure to a mitigated threat stimulates a process that may help people withstand real temptations,” the researchers concluded.
Between the advent of OnlyFans and sex robots, innovation in intimacy is typically seen as a threat to the stability of relationships. But the current findings highlight a sweeter side of technological advancement that might help some couples stay together after all — as long as you can learn to tolerate that ridiculous VR headset, of course.