Women’s Gait Changes Across the Menstrual Cycle (and Men Notice It).
Can men gauge a woman’s menstrual status by her gait?
Posted Mar 27, 2010
Over the past ten years or so, evolutionary psychologists have uncovered a very broad range of phenomena that are intimately shaped by women's menstrual cycles including their preferences for particular male facial features, their desire to have sex, and their food-related behaviors (e.g., craving for calories). In a future post, I will discuss a project that I've conducted with my doctoral student Eric Stenstrom wherein we've explored the links between consumption and the menstrual cycle.
In today's post, I'd like to discuss an intriguing 2008 study conducted by Meghan P. Provost, Vernon L. Quinsey, and Nikolaus F. Troje and published in Archives of Sexual Behavior wherein they investigated how a woman's gait changes across her menstrual cycle and how that impacts men's attractiveness ratings (of the various gaits). Prior to having read the article, my hypothesis was that in the fertile phase of a woman's menstrual cycle, she would be more likely to have an attractive gait (e.g., greater swinging of the hips) as a means of maximizing the likelihood of attracting attention. This is similar in spirit to the finding that women are more likely to beautify themselves (e.g., wear sexy clothes; cf. Haselton et al., 2007) when maximally fertile, and to another recent study published in Evolution and Human Behavior and coauthored by Geoffrey Miller, Joshua M. Tybur, and Brent D. Jordan that showed that strippers receive greater tips during the fertile phase of their menstrual cycles (perhaps in part due to more solicitous and enticing dancing during the ovulatory phase). As you'll see below, the findings were contrary to the latter hypothesis.
Provost et al. captured a woman's gait using a point-light methodology (see demos here). Subsequently, they asked 35 men to rate the attractiveness of the women in question. Since the men could only see the point-lights (i.e., they could not see the women's faces or their actual bodies), one can be certain that their attractiveness ratings are only due to the gait. Surprisingly, men rated the women as slightly more attractive when these were in the luteal (i.e, non-fertile) phase. The authors argue that women might be subconsciously changing the cues that they emit (to a wide male audience) in such a way as to minimize the likelihood of receiving unwanted sexual attention when maximally fertile. Notwithstanding the fact that this finding contradicts the bulk of research that shows that women seek to advertise their attractiveness when maximally fertile, there is supporting evidence for the "personal safety" argument, namely, women do seek to reduce their risk-taking (e.g., walking down an isolated alley) when in estrus (Chavanne & Gallup, 1998).
To conclude, it would appear that to some extent men are capable of gauging a woman's ovulatory status, and as such it seems incorrect to assume that within the human context, women experience cryptic ovulation.
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