[Proposal] Using evolutionary psychology to understand why we cyberstalking intimate partners

Have you ever checked out a partner’s social media newsfeed to see what they are up to? Looked at their bank accounts online to see what they spent that $200 on? Or installed a location-tracking app on their smartphone, just to see where they are going?

Project Summary

Cyberstalking refers to the use of technology to repeatedly pursue, harass, and/or control a current, former, or potential romantic partner (Short et al., 2015). Compared to strangers, targets of cyberstalking are more often current, former, or potential intimate partners, also known as intimate partner cyberstalking (Smoker & March, 2017). Intimate partner cyberstalking is prevalent, with nearly 50% of Americans admitting to “stalking” an intimate partner online (NortonLifeLock, 2020). These high rates are especially concerning when considering the significant negative psychosocial and physical outcomes associated with experiencing intimate partner cyberstalking, including depression and anxiety (Haron & Yusok & 2010), changes in sleeping, eating, and symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Short et al., 2015). Concerningly, intimate partner cyberstalking can co-occur with offline forms of intimate partner abuse and violence (Cheyne & Guggisberg, 2018). Despite this prevalence, and impact, of intimate partner cyberstalking, we know very little about the motivations associated with cyberstalking intimate partners.

In this project, we take a novel approach to understanding intimate partner cyberstalking by applying an evolutionary perspective. According to tenets of evolutionary theory, engaging in intimate partner cyberstalking could be driven by jealousy. Both males and females experience jealousy in response to a threat to a valued relationship by a real or imagined rival exists (Buss & Duntley, 2011; Goetz, 2010). As a result of experiencing jealousy in response to a relational threat, an individual might may engage in mate retention behaviours (Shackleford, et al., 2005), which are adaptive behavioral responses intended to retain a mate. As an example, a male might experience jealousy in response to their mate adding an attractive new social media contact. A male then engages in intimate partner cyberstalking – a mate retention strategy – to determine the potential threat of the rival and ensure the mate is staying faithful. Someone of lower mate value (i.e., less attractive) may also be especially sensitivity to experiencing jealousy and perceiving potential relational threats (Buss & Duntley, 2011), thus may be more likely to perpetrate intimate partner cyberstalking.

Interestingly, despite face-to-face stalking cases typically demonstrating a male-perpetrator/female-victim paradigm, intimate partner cyberstalking is more commonly perpetrated by females (March et al., 2020; Muise et al., 2014; Smoker & March, 2017). Researchers are yet to provide an adequate theoretical interpretation for this trend – however, we suggest that an evolutionary perspective also aids interpretation of this sex difference. Compared to males, female’s investment in potentially reproductive relationships is greater, because ancestral females have incurred more reproductive costs for mating mistakes (Trivers, 1972). Because of this increased investment, females might seek information about potential mates that could aid in the avoidance of incurring mating costs, such as investing too much time in an unfaithful mate. However, more direct methods of yielding information (e.g., overt stalking) may have been too risky for females. Intimate partner cyberstalking presents a low-risk, covert, even normalized opportunity to elicit important mate information to avoid costly mating mistakes.

Project Aim and Research Questions

The aim of the current project is to, for the first time, apply an evolutionary perspective to understand the occurrence of intimate partner cyberstalking. We will directly test the variables of sex, jealousy, mate retention, and mate value as predictors of intimate partner cyberstalking. Recruitment via Prolific Academic will be of great value to the current project, as an evolutionary perspective is dependent on recruiting a cross-cultural sample to determine universality of the results.

The current project will address the following research questions:

  1. Can an evolutionary perspective explain why people cyberstalk their intimate partners?
  2. Does increased jealousy predict increased perpetration of intimate partner cyberstalking?
  3. Do people who engage in more mate retention behaviors perpetrate more intimate partner cyberstalking?
  4. Do individuals of lower mate value perpetrate less intimate partner cyberstalking?
  5. Do women perpetrate more intimate partner cyberstalking than men?
  6. Are these results consistent across different cultures?

##Research Methodology

Methodology will be online recruitment via an online questionnaire which will consist of the following measures:
• Intimate Partner Cyberstalking Scale (IPCS; Smoker & March, 2017)
• March’s Multidimensional Cyberstalking Inventory (MMCI; March et al., 2021)
• Multidimensional Jealousy Scale (Pfeiffer & Wong, 1989)
• The Mate Retention Inventory-Short Form (Buss et al., 2008)
• Mate Value Scale (Edlund & Sagarin, 2014)
• The Short Dark Tetrad (Paulhus, 2020) – to assess for potential moderation

Sample Size

Based on an a priori power analysis with effect size set at .25, alpha at .05, power at 95%, and 8 predictors (sex, jealousy, mate retention, and mate value) we require a minimum sample size of 129 participants. However, as we would like to recruit a representative sample across at least 3 Western cultural groups and 3 Eastern cultural groups, we multiple this number by 6 which equates to N = 774. To overcome any potential attrition concerns, we aim to recruit a sample size of 800 participants.

Project Costs

Participant payments: £6,000 (800 * 60 minutes @ £7.50)|
Service fee (33%): £2,000|
VAT: £0
TOTAL COST = £8,000


This project is pre-registered: OSF | Evolutionary Theory and Intimate Partner Cyberstalking
Information about the project can be found in the wikilinks.

Open Data

All methodology and data will be open and uploaded via the OSF website (see link above).

Hi @Evita_March. Interesting topic! I am also studying a theme related to the evolutionary psychology :slight_smile: Good luck!