According to new research from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and the University of Minnesota, the ovulatory cycle alters women’s behavior by subconsciously motivating them to outdo other women.These findings could have important implications for marketers, consumers, and researchers.
In the experiment, investigators conducted three studies, one of which had ovulating and non-ovulating women play the “dictator game.” In this popular economic experiment, a person is given a fixed amount of money that she can choose to share with another person.
“We found that ovulating women were much less willing to share when the other person was another woman. They became meaner to other women,” said Kristina Durante, Ph.D, the lead author of the study.
Whereas non-ovulating women shared about 50 percent of the money with another woman, ovulating women shared only half as much, keeping the rest of the cash for themselves.
In another study, women made product choices that could either maximize their individual gains or maximize their relative gains compared to other women.
For example, women indicated if they preferred to have a $25,000 car while other women got $40,000 cars (Option A) or have a $20,000 car while other women got $12,000 cars (Option B).
The study found that ovulating women preferred Option B, choosing products that would give them higher standing compared to other women.
“What’s interesting about this finding is that ovulating women are so concerned about their relative position that they are willing to take less for themselves just so that they could outdo other women,” said study co-author Vladas Griskevicius.
But, the studies find that ovulation doesn’t always make women want more status.
When women played against a man rather than a woman in the dictator game, the researchers found an even more surprising result.
Whereas ovulating women became meaner to women, they became nicer to men. While non-ovulating women shared about 45 percent of the money with a man, ovulating women gave 60 percent of the money to the man.
“These findings are unlike anything we have ever seen in the dictator game. You just don’t see people giving away more than half of their money,” noted Durante.
“One possibility is that we’re seeing ovulating women share more money as a way to flirt with the men.”
The study, “Money, Status, and the Ovulatory Cycle” is found in the Journal of Marketing Research and builds on Durante and Griskevicius’ previous work that has shown how the ovulatory cycle alters preferences for romantic partners, clothing, food, and even politics.
The research is rooted in theory and research in evolutionary biology and evolutionary consumer behavior. For example, their findings that ovulating women jockey for position over other women is consistent with the literature on animals.
That is, studies have shown that female monkeys become more aggressive toward other females when fertile.
Experts believe that ultimately, Durante and Griskevicius’ findings on women’s monthly hormonal fluctuations could have important implications for consumers, marketers, and researchers.
Marketers, especially, might be able to use this information strategically by emphasizing the superiority of a given product in advertising, promotions, and messages to female consumers.