Why Women’s Racial Prejudices Increase While Ovulating

Research has shown that women’s bias against men (based on difference in race or group) increases during the fertile period of their menstrual cycle. Two studies were conducted with two groups of women to examine the change in their attitudes toward men of different races during the women’s menstrual cycle. The bias against these men was observed in women who perceived them as physically intimidating. The reason for the same is attributed partly to the defensive psychological mechanism, which has evolved in women due to fear of sexual coercion. It is believed that this fear is more intense during the fertile period, as the risk of conception is high.

It is known that women are at a greater risk of being assaulted and being victims of coercive mating when in the presence of unfamiliar men (belonging to a different group or race) throughout evolutionary history. The present study links the influence of the above risk to the prejudice of women against men of different races or groups. This prejudice was found to vary depending on the extent of association and the perception of physical formidability of these men by the women.  Women expressed greater prejudice against men from a negatively stereotyped group. Of the two studies conducted, study 1 was performed to analyze women’s bias against men of different racial groups and how it influenced their perception of the men’s physical formidability. Study 2 was similar to study 1, except for the fact that group categories were outside the racial context.

* In study 1, 224 white and 28 black non-pregnant female university students, aged 18 to 23 years with normal menstrual cycle lengths and who were not using hormonal contraceptives, were enrolled.
* The demographic data was collected using computer-aided questionnaires. The risk of conception was estimated by using statistical methods of actuarial data.
* The perception of the physical formidability of the men was analyzed using the Implicit Association Tests and the responses were recorded using reaction time software.
* In study 2, 85 university women were enrolled. They were put into different groups based on each participant’s perceptions of certain colors. Conception risk, physical formidability, and intergroup bias were calculated using similar methods as in study 1.

Results/Key findings
* The statistical analyses showed a significant association between women’s prejudice and high fertility periods and the perception of men as physically intimidating.
* Women’s bias against men of a different racial group increased with a rise in the risk of conception when these men were perceived as physically intimidating. The bias was not very significant when there was less association with physical formidability.
* The results from study 2 showed that intergroup bias was highest when there was high conception risk and a strong association with the physical formidability perception by the women.

Next steps/Shortcomings
There are methodological limitations in this research with respect to the measure of bias. In this research, the cause of the bias score could not be established accurately. The increase in women’s bias against men’s intergroup bias with high physical formidability could have been because of the higher preference of women for intelligent mates when the conception risk is high. There is a need for future research studies on partner selection, taking into account the results of this study.

This study concludes that the bias against different racial men is largely linked to the risk of coercive mating and being physically threatening for women. This might be because of the fact that women perceive men to be sexually coercive when they are at a higher risk of conception. The intensity of negative bias is more when the men are physically formidable. The results suggest that this bias is a sort of safety measure developed in women, when the conception risk is high, to decrease exposure to potentially coercive men. Women may favor the physical formidability of men of the same group, while they may perceive the same quality in out-of-group men as a sexual threat.

For More Information:
Fertility and Intergroup Bias in Racial and Minimal-Group Contexts: Evidence for Shared Architecture
Publication Journal: Psychological Science, June 2011
By Melissa M McDonald; Benjamin D Asher
From the Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.



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