Prejudice linked to women's menstrual cycle

June 22, 2011
Research by Melissa McDonald, doctoral student in psychology, and Carlos Navarrete, assistant professor of psychology, explores the link between fertility and prejudice. Credit: Michigan State University

Women's bias against male strangers increases when women are fertile, suggesting prejudice may be partly fueled by genetics, according to a study by Michigan State University psychology researchers.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, appears online in , a major research journal.

"Our findings suggest that women's prejudice, at least in part, may be a byproduct of their biology," said Melissa McDonald, a doctoral student and lead author on the paper.

The researchers conducted scientific studies with two groups of that investigated how women's implicit attitudes toward change across the . They found that fertile women were more biased against men of different races and men of different social groups than men of their own group.

Importantly, though, the increase in bias occurred only for women who perceived the men as physically threatening, said Carlos David Navarrete, assistant professor of psychology and research team leader. Navarrete, an evolutionary psychologist, and his team explore big-picture topics such as morality and race relations.

Previous research has focused on men within the same racial and . In those cases, women who were fertile had more positive impressions of men who were physically imposing. These results suggest that the same traits that 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 , McDonald said.

McDonald and Navarrete said their team's findings 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 women are fertile.

To minimize this threat, McDonald said, 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, she said, 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 said, "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."

Explore further: Daily acts of sexism go unnoticed by men, women

Related Stories

Daily acts of sexism go unnoticed by men, women

June 13, 2011
Nearly everyone can recognize the stereotypical scene of construction workers catcalling women as being sexist, but both men and women tend to overlook the more subtle daily acts of sexism they encounter, according to a recent ...

Recommended for you

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

New study suggests that reduced insurance coverage for mental health treatment increases costs for the seriously ill

July 19, 2017
Higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care could have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of acute and involuntary mental health care among those suffering from the most debilitating disorders, a Harvard ...

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.