What women really want

Psychologists continue to argue about whether the sexual preferences of women vary depending on the stage of the menstrual cycle.

In the last twenty years in psychology, the hypothesis of the interrelation between the menstrual cycle of women and the choice of the sexual partner has become especially popular. It is believed that the criteria by which a woman evaluates a man, vary depending on whether she is at the stage of ovulation or not. Psychologists came to the conclusion that during ovulation women prefer those called “macho”, that is, they are accustomed to dominating men with increased, if I may say so, masculinity. Moreover, according to some researchers, women manage to assess the genetic potential of men by the criteria of masculinity – that is, during ovulation women are looking for suitable genes for their children, and that’s why they are attracted to alpha males.

An example is a relatively recent study by psychologists from the University of Texas at San Antonio, who found that changes in the hormonal background during the development of the egg cause women to see the “bad guys” of the most reliable fathers of the family. It is clear that the characteristics of the character, typical of exemplary family members, are not well combined with a love for adventures, amorous adventures and other signs of “increased masculinity.” And here during ovulation in women, these two images seem to merge into one: in inveterate playboys and “James bonds” they are ready to see ideal fathers.

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However, it was not so simple with this hypothesis. Wendy Wood ( Wendy Wood ), a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, decided to expose meta-analysis of works devoted to the relationship of the menstrual cycle and the choice of a sexual partner. Meta-analysis implies that we collect and analyze data from many studies on a single topic at once, and as a result, we can say how much the different articles agree with each other, how reliable the data are, whether on the basis of all the results one can formulate a hypothesis and e. Wendy Wood and her colleagues checked 45 published and 13 unpublished works in this way, and concluded that the above-mentioned relationship is unlikely to exist in reality. In an article in the Emotion Review the authors of the work write that women in the stage of increased fertility, can, and highly appreciate the dominant and courageous men, but do not too much seek to have sex with them. In those cases, when it was possible to detect a greater inclination of women to “alpha males”, the result of the study rather resembles an artifact, rather than reliable data. In general, this effect depended on the clarity of the definition of the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle – that is, the wider the interpretation of this phase, the greater was the probability of finding a psychological craving for macho. Well, finally, positive results on this topic were contained only in published works, which again does not add points to the whole hypothesis as a whole.

It is necessary to emphasize that here it is not a question of whether or not loving courageous men in general, but about if the connection between such love and the physiological cycle. In the end, our sexual preferences depend not only on biology, but also on sociocultural factors. Similarly, a combination of biology and social psychology may give rise to a constant craving for quiet family members, which again will not depend on the phase of the menstrual cycle.

All anything, but a little earlier in the journal Psychological Bulletin came out another meta-analytical review on the same topic. In it, Kelly Gildersleeve ( Kelly Gildersleeve ) of the University of California at Los Angeles and her colleagues come to exactly the opposite conclusion and fully confirm the connection between the sexual preferences of women and their current physiology. And for meta-analysis, the same works were chosen in many respects, as in the first, disproving survey. Proponents of the hypothesis believe that in the first case the authors simply did not notice the pattern, having lost it in the noise of many other, not completely correct studies.

And then the question of what women want is coming to the fore – it’s much more interesting to understand how we can even study such phenomena. That is, everything depends on the methodology of scientific research. As the professor of biostatistics from the University of Brown Christopher Schmid ( Christopher Schmid) says in an interview with Inside Science News Service), this mismatch of the two meta-analytic studies happens much more often than we would like. In this particular case, the problem may partly lie in the nature of the original work. In studies of this kind, psychologists check one or, at best, several criteria by which women evaluate men. For example, they are shown a photo or given to listen to a voice recording, and it is clear that the voice from the photo can not be adequately assessed, nor is the appearance by voice. That is, guesses can be built, but it’s still not the same thing that you can directly see or hear. But there is also sense of smell and touch.

If we are dealing with the analysis of several such studies, then the question arises, how exactly should we compare them? Can we, for example, compare a certain pattern found in the evaluation of photographs, with the absence of a pattern in a study with listening to voices? And if you can not compare it, why? And what will happen if we take into account socio-cultural factors: education, income level, family history and so on? These questions arise not only in the case of this particular hypothesis, but also in many other psychological (and not only psychological) studies.

However, this is why the importance of meta-analytical work is evident. Even if they give different, sometimes contradictory results, with their help you can find weaknesses in research methods – and, having discovered, try to turn weak points into strong ones.

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