Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University, studies the infidelities of powerful people. He placed Gen. Petraeus in a rogue's gallery that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Bill Clinton, and Condoleezza Rice during her frequent Ambien and Thunderbird fugue states. Though in Rice's case, none of the homeless people involved ever confirmed their marital statuses.
"The risk-taking personality has a bold quality. It's at the heart of great leadership, and sometimes it overrides what many Americans would call common sense," Farley told USA Today.
Another expert on the topic of adultery surmised that power and success instill a sense of invulnerability in people who've climbed to the top of the ladder by dint of hard work.
Dr. Lustig's studies, however, reveal limitations in that research.
"We met people from all walks of life who were engaging in extramarital affairs," Lustig said. "It's not a transgression reserved for only the powerful or elite. Even people who live in trailer parks cheat on one another. In fact, they seem to be cheating an awful lot."
Lustig hypothesized that at the bottom of the economic chain, similar risk-taking traits would emerge. "If the result of your life's efforts have led you to a mobile home in tornado alley, you may not feel emboldened and untouchable, but you certainly see nothing left to lose," he added.
More startling yet, even those in the center of the spectrum admitted to cheating. Lustig described the middle class cheaters as "those passionless, repressed zombies who don't want to act low but don't have enough esteem to find immunity from judgmental looks. They are trapped in loveless marriages, livable hatred, despair, loneliness, and sex addiction."
Reviewing Alfred Kinsey's research, Lustig discovered that 50 percent of American males and nearly 30 percent of females confessed to having affairs at least once during their marriages.
"That's almost 80 percent of the post-pubescent population," Lustig exclaimed. "All that really leaves are nuns, 'Twilight' readers, and comic book collectors. Perhaps a handful of Mennonites. With prevalence rates this high, we remain confounded on how anybody gives a tinker's damn about Gen. Petraeus cheating. Unless he was diddling Mata Hari or Ethel Rosenberg, it's hard to determine how he compromised the nation's security."
Lustig credits prurient curiosity with sustaining public interest in the case.
"My guess is people were hoping Ms. Broadwell would pull a 'Lisa Nowak' -- climb into a pair of adult diapers and drive cross country on a lovesick and poorly conceived assassination attempt," Lustig mused.
Still, Dr. Lustig sees a silver lining to the scandalous cloud. As a result of the public's fixation on where Gen. Petraeus chose to "deploy his Hummers" outside the theaters of war, Americans have learned that the U.S. military has been engaged in missions throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia. They can now also identify at least two of those countries on a world map, within a 250-mile radius.
For would-be adulterers, Lustig pointed out one additional lesson learned: "If America's top spy couldn't keep his errant libido a secret, you're not going to either. It's probably best not to try. It can't be done."
(c) 2012. See disclaimers.