At their most fertile time, women with Average Joe mates are more likely to find fault with them than women with sexier-looking partners, according to a new study from UCLA. One theory is that evolution may have primed women’s brains to confuse good biceps with good mates when they’re ovulating.
For women, the window of opportunity for getting pregnant each month is brief—just a few short days around the time of ovulation. Throughout evolutionary history, it was crucial for women to mate—and mate well—during this time. So the female brain may have evolved an awareness of ovulation that still subconsciously affects women’s feelings and behavior. Here’s what the latest research shows.
In the UCLA study, women with ordinary-looking mates felt less close to them and more critical of their faults just before ovulation, compared with other days of the month. In contrast, women with hot-looking guys felt closer to them and more satisfied with their relationships when ovulating.
In a statement about the study, senior author Martie Haselton, PhD, said: “Since our female ancestors couldn't directly examine a potential partner's genetic makeup, they had to base their decisions on physical manifestations of the presence of good genes and the absence of genetic mutations, which might include masculine features such as a deep voice, masculine face, dominant behavior, and sexy looks.” In short, they judged a book by its cover—and women today may do that, too, especially when ovulating.
Another recent study showed that ovulation may cloud women’s judgment about men’s potential as good fathers. In a study led by Kristina Durante, PhD, of the University of Texas at San Antonio, young women watched videos that ostensibly showed identical twins introducing themselves as possible dates. In reality, the “twins” were the same actor portraying two roles: sexy cad and reliable nice guy.
Afterward, the women were asked to imagine how involved each man would be in child care if they had a child together. Women gave the sexy cad higher marks as dad material when ovulating, compared to other times of the month. But, interestingly, this was only true when they imagined themselves as the mom. Ovulating or not, women didn’t delude themselves when they imagined another woman as the mother.
Women work harder to get the attention of those hot guys when ovulating. In an earlier study by Haselton, 30 women in committed relationships were photographed at high- and low-fertility times in their cycles. Later, when volunteers were shown the pairs of photos and asked to choose the one in which each woman was trying to look more attractive, they were more likely to pick photos taken near ovulation.
Much of the motivation for dressing to impress may be to outdo the competition, based on another study by Durante. In the study, female volunteers first viewed photos of other women and then chose clothing, shoes, and accessories they would like to buy. Those who had seen photos of attractive local women picked sexier items when ovulating than at other times. But ovulation didn’t affect clothing choice when the photos were of either less attractive women or attractive women who lived far away—in other words, women who weren’t seen as serious rivals.
It’s not all bad news for Mr. Nice Guy. The UCLA researchers found no change in how women saw their commitment to their relationships when ovulating.
Plus, Haselton subscribes to something called the “dual-mating hypothesis,” which states that women evolved to look for men who can offer not only good genes, but also good care for her children. So when women are at their most fertile, they may feel increased desire for a sexually attractive mate. But they’re also longing for a stable, long-term partner.
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