As winter approaches, it seems as though many people’s relationship statuses are changing to “single.” Winter is the most popular season to break-up, peaking right before the holidays. While most couples chalk it up to having mutual differences, one reason for the disenchantment may be more scientific than once thought.
UCLA researchers have found a correlation with female mate perception and ovulation, meaning that during a woman’s most fertile period, she is more likely to be distant from her more acquiescent and stable partner, and temporarily prefer a “dominant” male.
Joseph Gonzales, a doctoral student at UC Davis, explained that the “good genes” fertile women look for in males are aspects such as a V-shape body, height, angular features and facial symmetry. These characteristics are universal indicators of masculinity and originate from testosterone levels. If a male has softer features and perhaps a more docile disposition, he will be perceived as less attractive by women when they are fertile.
“[These] types of ovulatory effects are quite fascinating and have been shown to affect both preferences and behavior of men and women,” said Ryan Schacht, a human behavioral ecologist at UC Davis. “Women at or near ovulation have been shown to dress more provocatively, be more proceptive (seeking partners), prefer more masculine males and be more likely to cheat.”
According to Schacht, men vary their behavior near fertile women as well. Men tend to give bigger tips to dancers at gentlemen’s clubs when the dancers are ovulating, and men also exhibit much more protective behavior when their partners are ovulating.
Martie Haselton, a professor of psychology and communication studies at UCLA and senior author of the study, conducted studies with 41 undergraduate females in long-term heterosexual relationships. Using questionnaires, researchers asked participants to rate their mates at two different points of their ovulatory cycle: high fertility and low fertility. The questions were focused on their mates’ perceived sexual attractiveness, stability and suitability.
Though the initial findings did not display any significant changes, an exercise in which the participants were asked to rate the closeness of their relationship revealed compelling results. With women who are mated to less attractive men, their closeness level dropped one point on a seven point scale from their least fertile to their most fertile period. In women with attractive mates, on the other hand, closeness level ratings were observed to rise by one point from their least fertile period to their most fertile period.
“A lot of research has shown that women’s preferences change over the course of the cycle, but this is the first time that these changes have been shown to have implications for relationship functioning,” said Christina Larson, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate in social psychology at UCLA, in the initial press release.
A separate study conducted to check for any anomalies solidified the research. Most scientists in this area and related fields agree that the effects of ovulation on mate selection are reminiscent of early human behavior.
“The suggestion is that women, over evolutionary time, might have sometimes slept with a masculine male, other than their mate, around the time of ovulation, which would have allowed her to be pregnant with the healthy, masculine male’s child, while staying mated with her own less masculine mate,” said Phillip Shaver, a professor of psychology at UC Davis. “[He] might be a nice, loyal guy [and] would take care of her and the other guy’s child. This allows a woman to have the benefits of one guy’s ‘good genes’ … and the benefits of a loyal partner.”
While this may concern some of the “nice guys” reading this article, rest assured the effects are temporary and psychological, meaning the changes in preference do not necessarily guarantee that a woman will seek other partners.
“People of both sexes are occasionally attracted to people who are not their primary mates, including being attracted to movie stars, singers, etc. whom they will never actually meet, but this doesn’t necessarily disrupt a primary relationship because it isn’t acted on,” Shaver said. “In the same way that we are all attracted to sweet and fatty foods for evolutionary reasons, but do not always indulge our attractions to them, most of us can be momentarily attracted to someone other than our mate without having to climb into bed with that person.”
NICOLE NOGA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.