Sunday, May 24, 2009

When most fertile, females choose the jerk

This paper, entitled "Changes in Women’s Mate Preferences Across the Ovulatory Cylce," examined how women rated men displaying certain characteristic indicators of good genes and good investment throughout their ovulatory cycle. First, a sample of women rated men based on the following traits and characteristics: “intelligence, warmth, degree of social respect, ability to be a good father, sexual faithfulness, capacity for financial success, physical attractiveness, muscularity, confrontativeness with other men, and arrogance." The men participating in the study as subjects also rated themselves based on these characteristics. Next, a different sample of women rated the attractiveness of each man as a long-term or short-term mate.

Their hypothesis questioned if mate preference varies depending upon where the woman is in her ovulatory cycle. They predicted that women would prefer good gene indicators when they are most fertile and good investment indicators in other contexts.

These indicators are important from a female perspective for a number of reasons. Females are capable of yielding a limited number of gametes in her lifetime. Gestation and lactation are also incredibly energy-consuming and required years of commitment before a woman is able to mate again to successfully rear another child. For these reasons, it is argued that women are the choosier sex.

Examples of good gene indicators are those phenotypes that correspond to good health and developmental stability. Particularly when women seek partners as short-term mates (ahem one night stands), it is predicted that she would prefer indicators of heritable fitness, or genes that will most likely yield successful offspring. Facial symmetry and masculinized physical features are examples of good gene indicators. They reflect good health and high testosterone levels, respectively. From an evolutionary standpoint, these indicators are advantageous because they will lead to fitness-enhancing characteristics passed on to the next generation.

They recognized that some traits, namely paternal investment indicators, had not been tested to empirically support the hypothesis that fluctuation in female preference does not extend to traits such as warmth, kindness, and faithfulness. They hoped to examine a wider variety of physical and behavior characteristics in men that serve as indicators of good genes and good investment.

Women’s ratings of men’s attractiveness were analyzed using a multilevel regression. The analysis described how women’s attraction to men as long-term or short-term mates related to the men’s characteristics (that both sexes were able to identify). They found that nine out of ten male traits were more preferred in the context of choosing short-term mates rather than long-term mates, including arrogance, muscularity, confrontativeness, etc.

They also analyzed women’s preferences for male characteristics as it relates to their degree of conception risk. In other words, they were looking for characteristics of men that women found attractive when they were most fertile, or at risk of producing a conceptus. They did find significant evidence that women preferred six traits of men for short-term mate interactions more when they were most fertile! These traits include confrontativeness, arrogance, muscular physical features, social respect, and physical attractiveness.

This supports the notion that women’s mate preferences predictably shift throughout their ovulatory cycle. When they are most fertile, women tend to preference indicators of good genes.

When they tested for fluctuations in female preference for long-term mates in good parental investment indicators across the ovulatory cycle, they found none. Women did not prefer parental investment mate qualities more when they were ovulating than when they were not.

These findings provide further support for the good genes hypothesis, which predicts women will prefer indicators of heritable genetic quality more when they are most fertile and assessing men as short-term mates.

Gangestad, S. W., Garver-Apgar, C. E., Simpson, J. A., and A. J. Cousins. 2007. Changes in Women’s Mate Preferences Across the Ovulatory Cylce. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92(1): 151-163.

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