An Area of Your Brain Makes You Jealous

Did you know that there are certain areas of your brain that switch on feelings of jealousy? Reports of strokes that cause stroke survivors to experience jealousy have recently revealed that jealousy is indeed, ‘in your head,' and specifically in the left part of your cerebral cortex.

The jealous part of your brain

The cortical region of the frontal lobe of your brain is in charge of your decision-making abilities and your self-control.

Researchers from the University of Texas and from the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales described an experiment in which scientists electrically stimulated the left or right frontal cortex of healthy volunteers by placing mild electrical currents on the skull for a period of 15 minutes. The volunteers in both groups were then instructed to play a game that was intended to make them feel socially excluded. The volunteers then answered questions designed by the experimenters. It turned out that, while both sets of volunteers were made to feel socially excluded, the volunteers who received stimulation to the left frontal cortex reported more feelings of jealousy than the volunteers who received the stimulus to the right frontal cortex. 

Othello syndrome- a special kind of jealousy 

There are several interesting reports of stroke patients who developed a specific kind of jealousy called Othello syndrome (named after a Shakespearean play.) Othello syndrome is a type of jealousy in which people incorrectly suspect and accuse their spouse of infidelity.

 

Recent medical case reports describe at least 3 separate stroke patients who exhibited almost identical symptoms of pathological jealousy in which they suddenly became jealous of other people and most notably, accused their wives of infidelity that was considered by all witnesses to be practically impossible.

For example, one patient accused his wife of having an affair with his (the patient’s) childhood teacher while another patient accused his wife of having relationships with other patients in the hospital. 

All three patients had large strokes on the right side of the cerebral cortex. That means that the right side of the brain was damaged by the stroke. This is interesting because the experiments in which scientists were able to produce jealousy by electrical stimulation involved over-activating the left frontal cortex. 

What should you do? 

Since there are areas of the brain that make us more prone to jealousy, it seems that we all are born with some natural tendency to jealousy. Whether some people are more prone to fixating on those jealous feeling compared to others may have something to do with a larger or more active, 'jealousy region' in the brain. Some people, on the other hand, may have ‘learned’ to over-activate the jealous regions in the brain early in life. If you were constantly compared to others or if your parents expressed jealousy themselves, you may be more prone to jealousy than if you were given positive reinforcement, constructive criticism and if your role models were more confident.

 

While jealousy is an unpleasant fact of life, it is a painful emotion that most people would like to get rid of. Getting over jealous feelings is easier said than done- it is the world’s oldest 'sin,' and according to psychology- the most shameful of emotions, because it entails feeling inferior to someone else.

However, knowing that it comes from your brain can help you admit your feelings of jealousy and can help you take charge of controlling and overcoming your own nagging jealousy when your own left cerebral cortex acts up to make you feel jealous! You can work on quelling your own unconstructive feelings of jealousy by avoiding excessive and useless comparisons and, possibly, by seeing a professional therapist if your persistent feelings of jealously interfere with your life.

Sources:

Jealousy increased by induced relative left frontal cortical activity. Kelley NJ, Eastwick PW, Harmon-Jones E, Schmeichel BJ, Emption, October 2015

Othello Syndrome After Cerebrovascular Infarction, Sofia Rocha, M.D.
João Pinho, M.D. Carla Ferreira, M.D. Álvaro Machado, M.D., Journal of Neurpsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, Summer 2014

Neuroimaging Correlates of Chronic Delusional Jealousy after Right Cerebral Infarction, J-P Luaute, M.D. O Saladini, M.D.J Luaute, M.D, Journal of Neurpsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, Spring 2008

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