Women’s Attention to and Memory for Fertile- and Non-Fertile Phase Women Across the Menstrual Cycle

Elizabeth A. Necka, Kelly E. Faig, Kathryne Van Hedger, Ian M. Lyons, Stephanie J. Dimitroff, Maike Luhmann, David A. Puts, Greg J. Norman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objectives: Across the menstrual cycle, women exhibit fluctuations in psychosocial motivations. Some evidence suggests that near ovulation, women exhibit increased status concerns and behaviors that could be considered intrasexually competitive in nature. Women are sensitive to other women’s fertility, which may be useful for refining expectations about subsequent social interactions, particularly among women who are fertile themselves. Consistent with theories that attentional and memory processes are modulated by motivation, we hypothesized that women would exhibit attentional and memory biases for fertile-phase women, and potentially more so when they were in the fertile phase of their own cycle. However, individuals with higher visual working memory capacity (VWMC) are typically resistant to such biases; thus, we expected bias would be most pronounced among participants with lower VWMC. Methods: Fifty-six premenopausal women who were not using hormonal contraceptives completed a visual selective attention task and a visual working memory task at two points in their menstrual cycle, near peak fertility (e.g., the late follicular phase) and during one of two low-fertile phases (either the early-follicular or the mid-luteal phase). Stimuli in the tasks were images of premenopausal women who were not using hormonal contraceptives in fertile- and non-fertile phases. We assessed participants’ response times in the tasks as a function of the fertility of the stimulus woman, participants’ cycle-phase, and participants’ VWMC. Results: We demonstrate that when participants have lower VWMC, images of fertile-phase women capture their attention more than images of non-fertile-phase women. Furthermore, we show preliminary evidence that when participants have lower VWMC, they are faster to identify the face of a woman stored in visual working memory if she is in her fertile, relative to non-fertile, phase and participants are in the early-follicular phase of their own cycle. Conclusions: When VWMC is low, women are sensitive to visual cues of other women’s fertility, such that they exhibit attentional biases for fertile-phase women, and memory biases for fertile-phase women that vary as a function of their own menstrual cycle phase. Our results suggest that visual cues of other’s biological states alter early attentional processes in congruence with one’s broader social goals and motivations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-305
Number of pages23
JournalAdaptive Human Behavior and Physiology
Volume4
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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    Necka, E. A., Faig, K. E., Van Hedger, K., Lyons, I. M., Dimitroff, S. J., Luhmann, M., Puts, D. A., & Norman, G. J. (2018). Women’s Attention to and Memory for Fertile- and Non-Fertile Phase Women Across the Menstrual Cycle. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 4(3), 283-305. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40750-018-0093-4