Males like it when a woman ovulates. (No they don’t.)

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

In a as yet unpublished study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 80% of male monkeys tested were able to tell which female was ovulating by picture alone.

They presented male monkeys with two pictures of the same female’s face: one from a day on which she was ovulating, and one from a time before she was ovulating.  More than 80 percent of males from the female’s group were able to discriminate between the two faces, looking longer at the photograph in which she was ovulating than the one in which she was pre-fertile. Males who did not know the specific female in the photograph showed no such preference.

Any time monkeys score 80% on a test, I want to know about it.  But what are the appropriate conclusions to draw from this study, assuming this is true?  Here’s an inappropriate conclusion:

“The study raises new questions about whether familiarity might be used by the males of our own species to detect when women are fertile,” noted Santos.

Let’s grant that the monkeys gazed longer at the ovulating faces.  That doesn’t mean they could tell they were ovulating, just that they were more attractive.

In fact, while it would be evolutionarily advantageous for the female to be more attractive during evolution, it would not be advantageous to advertise that she was ovulating. Especially in humans, and especially to men.  Females, especially ones in relationships, take too much of a gamble broadcasting their fertility to strangers.  If we take their own studies at face value, it makes men go completely bananas.

When you read studies about mate selection and evolutionary psychology in general, remember a simple fact: once we got consciousness, all bets were off. 

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5 Responses to Males like it when a woman ovulates. (No they don’t.)

  1. FrederickMercury says:

    “In fact, while it would be evolutionarily advantageous for the female to be more attractive during evolution”

    i assume you meant “during ovulation”? haha

    interesting article as always. the more of these evolutionary psychology studies i see, the more i worry about my face being frozen forever with a bemused and incredulous look.

  2. Dan Dravot says:

    Loved that NYT piece. Virtually everything any of the labcoats made was tendentious.

    “They were trying to convince themselves that she was undesirable. I suspect some men really came to believe what they said. Others might still have felt the undercurrent of their forbidden desire, but I bet just voicing their lack of attraction helped them suppress it.”

    The context is that unattached men found an ovulating woman more attractive than attached men. The assumption appears to be that something about her was more attractive to unattached men, and therefore must have been more attractive to the others as well — but they all lied about it. Even to themselves. No reason at all is given to believe that the ovulating girl must have the same effect on paired and unpaired college-age men. Given that the purpose of the study is to find out what effect ovulating girls have on paired and unpaired college-age men, and the method of determining their preferences is to ask them… WTF?

    “Mysteriously, most Americans denied being able to speak French. Fortunately, we were able to pull a facile guess out of our ass about why they’re lying, and use that to infer some important things about Americans.”

    There’s some evidence that pair-bonding, at least in the early stages, affects people’s brain chemistry. There’s the initial four-month sex-all-the-time period, the seven-year itch, etc. The initial-infatuation business is very, very well-established, even if brain chemistry may or may not be behind it. Given that all the subjects were modern college students, what are the odds the attached ones have been in relationships long enough to get bored with the girl? Better than zero, but are they good enough to simply ignore the effect? Bets on that?

    Can we be quite sure the unattached men weren’t just more desperate, more willing to lower their standards? Where did they get these subjects from? If it was the physics or CS departments, that changes things quite a bit.

    Also, are long-term relationships a given in college these days? What if college students in relationships are self-selected to some significant degree for… I don’t know what, but can you rule out the possibility that may it have something to do with how they relate to pretty girls other than the one they’re theoretically committed to?

    What if attraction is a complicated interaction? What if a man’s perception of a woman’s attractiveness is affected by her behavior toward him, which is affected by how he treats her? That is to say, what if we were conscious primates living on planet Earth? “Nope, she was instructed to treat them all the same!” Yeah, right, OK.

    Men rate her body odor as more attractive…

    That’s a different study, right? It does lend some support to the assumptions they’re making, though even in lower primates and kids studying compiler design, there’s a lot more to it than smell.

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  4. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    Men don’t like it when a woman ovulates, any more than people like it when sugar turns into triglycerides and is stored in your adipocytes as body fat. However, when people taste sugar, and their blood glucose rises, their brain cranks out their endorphins and dopamine and they feel great. They want more sugar. It’s the effects of sugar that they seek, not the metabolic impact (which is what your GENES want: capitalize on seasonal excesses).

    Ovulation results in changes in sex steroids as well as neurotransmitters which change the appearance and behavior of females. Men like that. They don’t necessarily like the whole conception/having a baby/being asked for money for an abortion/being accused of sexual assault thing which tends to surround impulsive casual sexual behavior. Men don’t want ovulation; its male genetics which want ovulation. Men just want baby faces and blonde hair and pouty lips and higher voice pitch and curvy bodies, and the way that feels. The neuroanatomy of a typical male brain is organized in such a way as to respond to people who look this way; these looks are enhanced by fertility especially ovulation.

    When you write “men like it when a woman ovulates” obviously this is untrue. However I would point out that no one really thinks it’s true, and when people make those kind of statements what they are really saying is “men like indicators of ovulation such as enhanced beauty and youth”. When phrased this way, the statement is 100% true.

    When you read studies about mate selection and evolutionary psychology in general, remember a simple fact: once we got consciousness, all bets were off.

    Why do you assume this is true?

    I tend to think of it more of a case that we are still very heavily influenced by instinct (biological, unconscious driving force)… however having consciousness and language means you have a window to talk about it. We can write a poem about being infatuated with someone, we can call it love, but this is still a heavily biological behavior. People don’t “fall in love” before puberty for a very good reason… you need that driving reproductive instinct to feel this thing called “love” (more accurately, infatuation).

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