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How ovulating women affect men's speech
February 8th, 2012
05:01 PM ET

How ovulating women affect men's speech

The elaborate courtship displays found in the animal kingdom - a peacock spreading his feathers, the hissing of the Madagascar cockroach - aren't always appropriate in an office or classroom.

Male humans seem to have devised other, less obvious ways of showing off.

A new study suggests that when young men interact with a woman who is in the fertile period of her menstrual cycle, they pick up on subtle changes in her skin tone, voice, and scent - usually subconsciously - and respond by changing their speech patterns.

Specifically, they become less likely to mimic the woman's sentence structure. According to the researchers, this unintentional shift in language may serve to telegraph the man's creativity and nonconformity - qualities that are believed to attract potential mates.

"At least a part of the interpersonal dynamic that exists when men and women are getting to know prospective romantic partners is being governed by the biology of a woman's body and men's sensitivity to these biological factors," says Michael Kaschak, Ph.D., the senior author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

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This idea isn't new to evolutionary psychologists, who have long known that males of various species will change their behavior if they're trying to find, or hold on to, a mate. In humans, these displays can include risk taking (rashly choosing to "hit" in blackjack, say), writing a romantic poem, or using big words.

Moreover, previous research has found that female fertility cues tend to trigger this type of behavior in men. With that knowledge in mind, Kaschak and his coauthor designed a pair of experiments to test whether a woman's fertility affects male speech. Their findings appear in the journal PLoS One this week.

The first experiment included 123 male and five female college students, all of them heterosexual. The researchers tracked each woman's fertility by marking the beginning and end of her menstrual cycle.

At various points in the cycle, they paired off a woman with one of the men in a laboratory.

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The man and woman sat together at a table and were given a few minutes to interact, so the man could discern fertility cues, if there were any. To make cues as noticeable as possible, the women refrained from using makeup, perfume or scented shampoo.

Researchers then gave each partner a stack of line drawings depicting simple scenes - one child giving another child a toy, for example. The woman was asked to provide a one-sentence description of each picture ("Meghan gave Michael a toy"), and the man responded by doing the same with one of his own pictures. As he did so, the researchers compared the structure of his sentences to that of the woman's.

When the women were less fertile, men copied their sentence constructions 62% of the time. But the rate dropped to just under 50% when the women were at peak fertility.

What's more, when the researchers repeated the experiment with women only, fertility had no discernible impact on sentence structure.

"It didn't show the same effect at all," Kaschak says. "The effect was specific to men."

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There is a catch, however: Men in the first experiment who thought their partner was being flirtatious were actually more likely to match their sentence structure to hers. In this scenario, Kaschak says, the male's priority might be to reciprocate the female's interest rather than draw added attention to himself.

"If the woman seems noncommittal, then maybe the correct strategy is to do something to try to stand out a little bit, to try to get her attention," he says. "Maybe you can drum up some interest."

The findings will likely be of interest to language researchers, especially those who study so-called "linguistic alignment" in relationships, Kaschak and his coauthor suggest. For the rest of us, they're a reminder that conversations between men and women are often more complex than they might seem on the surface.

"A lot of the behavior that we exhibit when we interact with other people happens on an unconscious level," Kaschak says.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

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Filed under: Fertility • Health.com

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. brian

    God, what a waste of time, money and energy! I hope tax dollars weren't used for this study!

    February 9, 2012 at 09:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • gravity is just a theory

      Yeah, science and scientific curiosity are so useless.

      February 9, 2012 at 12:39 | Report abuse |
    • Geoffrey Hamilton

      You must be a Rick Santorum supporter

      February 9, 2012 at 15:41 | Report abuse |
    • Marcia

      Stop government sanctioned terrorism against medical marijuana patients. For God’s sake please STOP.

      February 10, 2012 at 10:25 | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Yeah, we certainly don't want to understand human behaviors any better. That could help understand and maybe treat mental diseases. And maybe also reduce the risk of agressive behaviors and rape. But all that is a waste of money, right?

      February 10, 2012 at 13:25 | Report abuse |
  2. Roberto

    BS!!

    February 9, 2012 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • gravity is just a theory

      You're right, it's such BS. I'm sure you know better than a group of scientists. They should all get real jobs, like writing home loans for BofA or something.

      February 9, 2012 at 12:42 | Report abuse |
    • gwawinapterus

      If you think so, then bother to do another experiment of this type, retarded imbecile. Anti-intellectualism is something to be destroyed, not encouraged.

      August 24, 2012 at 16:06 | Report abuse |
  3. hmmmmmmm

    so when women flirt guys flirt back,. and when women are not impressed men try to impress them. hmm cost money to find that out? next they wil do a study to see if sailors curse

    February 9, 2012 at 13:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Yoda

    My sentence structure explains this does.

    February 9, 2012 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Shmuel-Aharon Kam

    Any chance of a link or reference to this study?

    February 9, 2012 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Michael

    Seems like circular reasoning to me. If they do not exclude the men who thought the women were flirting, is there still any correlation?

    February 9, 2012 at 18:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Matheus

      I did heavy push press instead of push jerk cause i wanetd to go heavy, which i cant do with the jerk till i get better at it. Did 5 135 3 165 3 175 1 185 1 190. Then did the WOD 9:32 RX missed a box jump and mangled my shin, it was awesome. It mirrors a month ago when i did heavy push presses before box jumps and took a nice divot out of my shin when i missed a box jump.

      October 13, 2012 at 22:24 | Report abuse |
  7. Mike

    I guess if there were really no relation between gender and biology, then the men and woman should have the same reaction to the fertility ques. Oh, they did not... I guess feminist theory is out the door.

    February 9, 2012 at 20:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Christine

      Sooo... you are saying that since men and women don't react to the same fertility cues, women are inherently inferior, should not be allowed to vote or to work out of their home, or even to own a home or anything?
      I don't know what you call feminism but for me it is giving us women the right to live the life of a human being with the possibility to chose a career, own a house or a business, travel alone or with whomever we want, and be considered equals instead of just brainless servants and incubators.

      February 10, 2012 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
    • gwawinapterus

      So, just because women don't adapt their language structure, they are inferior? That's retarded even by conservative standards.

      August 24, 2012 at 16:02 | Report abuse |
  8. Laureth

    So what exactly was the point of this experiment?

    February 10, 2012 at 07:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. GEE

    i honestly think that there trying to make a point. males try to get a females attention and shes not going to notice when females arent on there monthly the males stop trying. but if she is on her monthly males are going to keep tring. because the notice something

    February 10, 2012 at 12:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dua

      Ahh box jump fun.On the count of stepping into the jump vs. flat foot jump, I deniiftely fall into the stepping into it category more often then not. While I have no idea regarding it's RXitude, it is a very functional movement. In fact, I think it's reasonable to argue that stepping into a jump is more functional, more practical, and more used than the flat-footed alternative. Also, it deniiftely adds another level to the necessary whole body coordination of the movement (and one which can be seen readily in those who do it well vs. those who do it not as well).

      October 13, 2012 at 22:52 | Report abuse |
  10. JAG0419

    I can't believe that there are unemployed people out there that used to build cars and aircraft and yet somebody out there still has a job writing and researching this slop.

    February 20, 2012 at 21:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • gwawinapterus

      I would love to see if you would remain as mind numbingly stupid if you knew the consequences of your thinking.

      August 24, 2012 at 16:09 | Report abuse |
  11. Respect

    Great study, and feminists should take note, seeing as though they do not understand how the mating dance works any more with the extremely large chip on their shoulder.

    In every other mammal kingdom, as well as reptilian networks, there is a mating dance, where the female gives off signals and acts a certain way. The male responds as well as shows what he brings to the table. This has been going on for millions of years. The same use to be true in the human race, until feminism came into play.

    Now, a woman thinks she should just sit there with a chip on her shoulder and the man should do everything, and men don't want to waste time seeing as though a woman with a chip on her shoulder is not worth the effort.

    Watch any good flirtation that leads to something more (which is hard to find these days) and you will notice a give and take, a series of signals and postures and behavioral traits. Which mimics what is seen in studies like these.

    Feminists will never understand that DNA and Mother Nature cannot nor should not be changed. But that's like trying to speak logically with a brick wall.

    February 28, 2012 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.