Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Male face preferences during the menstural cycle

Oooh la la, Tyson Beckford - I must be in the follicular phase of my menstrual cycle :) Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Hormones - chemicals released by the endocrine organs in our body - are important molecules which have control over many of our bodily functions. It has been known for sometime that a woman’s preference for male traits (including but not limited to facial features, depth of the voice, behaviour, height, odour and body shape) changes according to the different phases in her menstrual cycle. Hormonal influence is one of many factors that is able to dictate a woman's preference for a male during a particular phase of her menstrual cycle. Several studies since the late 1990s up until now have examined the relationship between timing during the menstrual cycle and male trait preferences, with all studies having small variations in research method. I thought I would closely examine and summarise the findings of one of the early studies that looked at the relationship between the menstrual cycle and male face preference. This particular study employed Japanese women who had regular menstrual cycles and were not on the pill. The women were asked to select computer generated-faces which they considered physically attractive. The faces were a mix of five Caucasian and five Japanese men. The findings of this study strongly indicated that the women preferred male faces that were more masculine in the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle – the phase prior to ovulation/end of menses which allows the greatest chance of conception. During the luteal phase (post-ovulation, pre-menses), the women preferred men with feminised male faces. The reasoning behind this preference is as follows….Women prefer masculine facial features during the follicular phase because masculinity is supposedly thought of as an indicator of high quality males (although this relationship is controversial). During the follicular phase, a woman wants a “masculine” man – one with a strong immune system, one that is able to provide quality children and one that is able to confer resistance to disease. During the luteal phase, women prefer feminised male features which is thought to be an indicator of a man’s potential investment as a long-term partner ie. a man with a feminine face supposedly indicates cooperation in parental care and one that is unlikely to cheat.

Other studies examining the relationship between the menstrual cycle and male traits have reported vocal masculinity, dominant behaviour, taller men, facial symmetry, masculine body shapes as preferable during the follicular phase.

This may explain my preference for more feminised male features in an on-line experiment I participated in last year. After taking the test, I came up preferring feminised male faces. I may have been in the luteal phase of my menstrual cycle.

Reference: Penton-Voak IS, Perrett DI, Castles DL, Kobayashi T, Burt DM, Murray LK and Minamisawa R (1999) Menstrual cycle alters face preference. Nature 399 p. 741-742.

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