- According to the “good genes ovulatory shift hypothesis”, women may prefer more masculine men when they are more fertile.
- Prior findings are mixed and may not be applicable to real life scenarios given the use of laboratory settings and artificial stimuli.
- New research assessed ovulatory shifts through speed-dating, finding support through facial measurements of masculinity, but not height.
- The ovulatory shift was found only for mate desirability ratings and not date offers.
Stereotypical male beauty comes in multiple forms. For example, the “pretty boy” possesses refined, delicate features and a youthful and effeminate look. In contrast, the “manly man” is hyper-masculine, with broad and rugged features.
While many heterosexual women may have strong preferences for one or the other, some may shift their preferences over their menstrual cycles. Specifically, according to the “good genes ovulatory shift hypothesis”, women may be more attracted to more feminine men when they are at lower risk of conception due to perceptions of these men as better fathers. On the other hand, when women are at greater risk of conception, they may be more attracted to masculine men, who are thought to have “good genes” (i.e., genes that promote good health, such as a stronger immune system). Research in this area is mixed, yet prior work lacks ecological validity and cannot be generalized to real life. To test the hypothesis, past research relied on hypothetical scenarios in the lab, along with images and audio/video recordings of men. Therefore, my colleagues and I (Wu et al., 2022) tested the “good genes ovulatory shift hypothesis” in real life mate selection through a speed-dating study. Through speed-dating, we were also able to gather comprehensive measures of masculinity including perceived masculinity (by speed-dating partners), height, and facial measurements.
We held 15 speed-dating sessions with a total of 262 single Asian American participants who were interested in the other gender. Participants ranged from 18-30 years of age, and speed-dating sessions were separated by age. At the speed-dating session, women completed a questionnaire about their menstrual cycle and use of birth control. Participants then went on 3-minute speed-dates. After each date, participants completed an interaction questionnaire through which they offered second dates if desired (resulting in a “match” in the case of mutual date offers) and rated their speed-dating partner on attributes including mate desirability and masculinity. After the speed-dates, photos were taken of each participant for coding of facial measurements. Conception risk was calculated through estimated probabilities of conception by day of cycle for Asian women. The final sample (after excluding women who were on hormonal birth control or who experienced irregular cycles) included 100 women and 132 men.
Results indicated mixed support for the good genes ovulatory shift hypothesis. Contrary to expectations, women who were at greater conception risk did not have a greater preference for taller men. There was also limited support for ovulatory shifts based on perceptions of masculinity (average ratings of masculinity of the face, body, voice, personality, and movement/mannerisms across speed-dating partners). However, hypothesized ovulatory shifts were found for three out of four facial measurements. That is, women who were more fertile reported greater attraction towards men with masculine facial measurements, including a smaller eye-mouth-eye angle, a smaller facial width to lower face height ratio, and a larger lower face to full face height ratio. For cheekbone prominence, the shift was in the opposite direction, such that women at greater conception risk preferred more prominent (less masculine) cheekbones. We speculate that shifts may be found for more subtle indicators of masculinity, whereas preferences for obvious features like height are more stable.
Contrary to the ovulatory shift hypotheses, these shifts were not stronger for men’s short-term desirability, but were in fact more consistent for long-term desirability. This finding might be attributed to the sample of Asian Americans, who tend to be more long-term oriented when seeking relationships and less accepting of casual sex. Yet, the ovulatory shifts were only identified for desirability ratings, but not date offers, indicating that women’s behaviors were not substantially altered. Therefore, while the ovulatory shift was somewhat supported, it may not be practically important in the larger scheme of dating.
Wu, K., & Chen, C, & Yu, Z.(2022). Handsome or rugged? A speed-dating study of ovulatory shifts in women’s preferences for masculinity in men. Human Nature. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-022-09434-y