A study by University of Glasgow psychologists finds no evidence in favor of the controversial hypothesis that women’s preference in a male partner appearance fluctuates in accordance with their hormonal cycle.
Past research has both supported and countered this supposition, as well as the claim that taking hormonal contraceptives that interfere with the cycle will thus alter their perception of what facial features are appealing. The basis for these studies is a social-evolutionary theory that exaggerated male characteristics are indicators of high testosterone and a strong immune system, and thus, selecting a mate with this appearance will lead to the fittest (in all senses of the word) offspring. In contrast, more feminine features on men are believed to be indicators of a mate that would provide better care during the long period of child development.
Accordingly, many have postulated that women at their most fertile phase (ovulation) are more attracted to masculine men, and more open to men with feminine faces during the rest of the cycle.
However, as the authors of the current study, published in Psychological Science, point out, these investigations relied on women to self-report where they are in their cycle, only tested one time each at opposite points in the cycle, and only showed women one type of face.
To finally address this scientific question with a more robust experimental design, the team recruited 584 heterosexual women and asked them to pick which version of a male face they found attractive for a one-night stand/casual relationship. Then, during a separate round, the women were asked which they would pick for a committed partnership. Saliva samples were taken at each session to objectively measure hormone levels. In order to account for long-term hormone fluctuations, this test was performed once a week for 5 weeks. About seven months and 24 months later, second and third 5-week testing blocks were performed, though only 18 participants showed up for the third.
Though the women were, overall, more attracted to men with more masculine faces when selecting short-term relationships, the authors conclude: “Collectively, our analyses showed no compelling evidence that changes in women’s salivary hormone levels are associated with their facial-masculinity preferences or that the combined oral contraceptive pill decreases women’s masculinity preferences.”