Bias grows when women are fertile

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — At certain points in a woman’s menstrual cycle, she is more biased against men of different races and social groups than men in her own group.

But the increase in bias occurs only when women perceive the men as physically threatening, says Carlos David Navarrete, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.

Previous research has focused on men within the same racial and social groups. In those cases, women who were fertile had more positive impressions of men who were physically imposing.

The new results suggest that the same traits that fertile women find attractive in men of their same group may actually lead to more negativity against men when those traits are associated with men of a different racial or social group, says doctoral student Melissa McDonald, the study’s lead author.

“Our findings suggest that women’s prejudice, at least in part, may be a byproduct of their biology.”

Findings of the study, published online in the journal Psychological Science, are consistent with the idea that women’s prejudice may reflect the workings of an evolved psychological system that once functioned to protect them from sexual coercion, particularly when the costs are highest, that is, when they are fertile.

To minimize this threat, women may be more biased against men who have posed the greatest risk to their reproductive choice. Male strangers may have posed considerable risk of sexual coercion throughout human history, McDonald says, as sexual aggression against women by male “invaders” has been a pervasive problem since ancient times.

“This may be deeply ingrained at psychological levels,” Navarrete explains, “and may manifest itself particularly if women believe men from different racial and nonracial groups to be physically imposing and when women are most fertile.”

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

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