A 42 item Internet questionnaire was completed by 268 undergraduates at a large southeastern university to assess the frequency, motivations, and outcome of snooping in romantic relationships. Almost two thirds (66%) reported that they had engaged in snooping behavior, most often when the partner was taking a shower. Primary motives were "curiosity" and "suspicion" that the partner was cheating. Being female, jealous, and having been cheated on were associated with higher frequencies of snooping behavior. Uncertainty reduction theory was used to explain snooping behavior. Implications of the data suggest that the decision to snoop should be considered with great caution as almost twice as many relationships were worse (28%) as improved (18) as a result of the snooping. Limitations of the data are identified.
Snooping, also known as covert intrusive behavior, is defined as investigating (without the partner's knowledge or permission) a romantic partner's private communication (e.g. text messages, cell phone and email). Snooping behavior emerges in a context of mistrust and is fed by the perception that the partner is withholding information (not disclosing). Vinkers et al. (2011) noted that snooping is functional for the snooper since it provides information that is supposed to be a secret and gives power over the partner who cannot deny certain facts (e.g. "I know you sent a text message to your ex saying that you missed her because I read your text"). Snooping typically has negative consequences in that it is associated with increased conflict, decreased trust, and strained interaction.
High levels of personal disclosure are expected in close relationships. When an individual in a romantic relationship feels that his or her partner is not open/disclosing/secretive, he or she feels hurt and devalued. Individuals who feel anxious and uncertain about the partner's lack of disclosure are motivated to gain increased information which sometime results in snooping. Hence, low disclosure creates the context in which persons may snoop to gain increased information about the partner's behavior to correct the behavior if it is a threat to the relationship.
Vinkers et al. (2011) studied 188 couples married an average of two years and found that lower levels of perceived partner disclosure were associated with higher levels of intrusive behavior (snooping). Second, perceived disclosure was negatively associated with intrusive behavior at lower levels of trust in one's partner, but not at higher levels of trust. Hence, if one partner did not trust another, even though there was high disclosure, intrusive behavior still occurred. And, if the trust level was high, even though disclosure was low, snooping was less likely. Also, couples in the Vinkers et al. (2011) study believed that wives engaged in more snooping (intrusive behavior) than husbands because women have a higher need for emotional involvement and men have a greater need to control their privacy than women. The researchers did not find an actual gender difference in snooping behavior.
A 42 item questionnaire (approved by the Institutional Review Board) on "Snooping-A Survey on Attitudes and Behaviors) was posted on the...