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To make their point that "jealousy really is blinding," researchers from the University of Delaware made their female subjects jump through a series of cruel and unusual hoops.

The study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Emotion (published by the American Psychological Association), involved heterosexual couples who were taking introductory psychology courses.

The couples were asked to sit close to each other at different computers, separated by a curtain. Both men and women then participated in a "rapid attention task."

The women were asked to spot pictures of landscapes flashing by in a stream of images. They were to do this while ignoring other images that occasionally flicked by, photos of "graphic violence, distress, and medical trauma" sustained by animals and people, including a woman being attacked by a man wearing pantyhose on his head.

The men meanwhile, were asked to rate the attractiveness of landscapes on their screens. Partway through the experiment, one of the researchers announced to each partner in the couple that the men would now be appraising photos of single women, some of whom were on campus. (This was later revealed to be a lie; the women's pictures were amassed from the Web.)

At the end of the experiment, the women were asked how perturbed they were about their partners rating the attractiveness of other women. The more jealous the women reported feeling, the more distracted they became by the gruesome images, so much so that they could no longer spy the landscapes.

The researchers dubbed this "emotion-induced blindness."

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Zosia Bielski