Mean Girls May Be Biology at Work Reports a New Study

Hidden Horomone Danger: Ovulation Changes How Women Treat Each Other

For about a week out of every month, women become more focused on their social standing relative to other women, according to new research from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. They report that the ovulatory cycle alters women’s behavior by subconsciously motivating them to outdo other women in “Money, Status, and the Ovulatory Cycle.”

Previous work has shown how the ovulatory cycle alters preferences for romantic partners, clothing, food and even politics. But this research focused on women relating to women through three studies. The most striking of the three is the “dictator game,” a popular economic experiment where a person is given a fixed amount of money that she can choose to share with another person.

“We found that ovulating women were much less willing to share when the other person was another woman. They became meaner to other women,” says Kristina Durante (pictured), assistant professor of marketing at the UTSA College of Business and lead author of the study.

Whereas non-ovulating women share about 50 percent of the money with another woman, ovulating women share only half as much, keeping the rest of the cash for themselves.

But here’s the crazies part: women playing against a man rather than a woman in the dictator game became nicer to men. While nonovulating women shared about 45 percent of the money with a man, ovulating women gave 60 percent of the money to the man.

“These findings are unlike anything we have ever seen in the dictator game. You just don’t see people giving away more than half of their money,” notes Durante. “One possibility is that we’re seeing ovulating women share more money as a way to flirt with the men.”

In another study, women made product choices that could either maximize their individual gains or maximize their relative gains compared to other women. For example, women indicated if they preferred to have a $25,000 car while other women got $40,000 cars (Option A) or have a $20,000 car while other women got $12,000 cars (Option B). The study found that ovulating women preferred Option B, choosing products that would give them higher standing compared to other women. The same was true when the choice was similarly weighted between salaries.

“What’s interesting about this finding is that ovulating women are so concerned about their relative position that they are willing to take less for themselves just so that they could outdo other women,” says study coauthor Vladas Griskevicius, associate professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

This new research on biological motivations could help women understand and relate to other women better and more equitably.

Category: Psych

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