What do women want? It depends on time of month
A meta-analysis of research on changes in mate preferences across the menstrual cycle suggests that ovulating women have evolved to prefer mates who display sexy traits, such as a masculine body type, dominant behavior, certain body odors and masculine facial features, rather than traits that are generally desirable in a long-term mate.
If she loves you and then she loves you not, don’t blame the petals of that daisy. Blame evolution.UCLA researchers analyzed dozens of published and unpublished studies on how women’s preferences for mates change throughout the menstrual cycle. Their findings suggest that ovulating women have evolved to prefer mates who display sexy traits — such as a masculine body type and facial features, dominant behavior and certain scents — but not traits typically desired in long-term mates.So, desires for those masculine characteristics, which are thought to have been markers of high genetic quality in our male ancestors, don’t last all month — just the few days in a woman’s cycle when she is most likely to pass on genes that, eons ago, might have increased the odds of her offspring surviving and reproducing.”Women sometimes get a bad rap for being fickle, but the changes they experience are not arbitrary,” said Martie Haselton, a professor of psychology and communication studies at UCLA and the paper’s senior author. “Women experience intricately patterned preference shifts even though they might not serve any function in the present.”The findings will appear online this month in Psychological Bulletin, which is published by the American Psychological Association.Whether women’s mate preferences shift at high fertility has been a source of debate since the late 1990s, when the first scholarly studies to hint at such a change appeared. Since then, several papers have failed to replicate the early studies’ results, casting doubt on the hypothesis.Haselton and Kelly Gildersleeve, a UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology and the study’s lead author, spent three years attempting to resolve the controversy. They solicited raw data from dozens of scholars who have conducted research on the topic and then translated the data from 50 studies into the same mathematical format so that the findings could be statistically analyzed together.The strength of women’s preference shift proved to be statistically significant, although “small” to “medium” in size, relative to most findings in the field. As a point of comparison, the size of the shift was statistically comparable to the difference researchers have found between men’s and women’s self-reported number of heterosexual sex partners (with men reporting more sex partners).The findings are less clear, however, about which male characteristics are most alluring to ovulating women. But women’s responses to male body scents could be capable of producing the strongest effects, Haselton said.In the few scent studies conducted so far, researchers asked women to smell T-shirts that had been worn by men with varying degrees of body and facial symmetry. (Across a large body of research on many different animals, body and facial symmetry are associated with larger body size, more pronounced sexual “ornaments” such as the attractive plumage on male birds, and better health, suggesting that symmetry could be an indicator of genetic quality.) Women preferred the odors of more symmetrical men when in the fertile portions of their cycles. The UCLA meta-analysis likewise showed a large shift in women’s preference for the body odor of symmetrical men, although more studies are needed to determine whether this effect is robust.Haselton, who is based in UCLA’s College of Letters and Science, is one of a handful of pioneers in research on behavioral changes at ovulation. …
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