Robert Pistocchi, The Paisano
At the peak of ovulation, when estrogen is at its highest, women want more options, not only in men, but also in consumer products, according to Assistant Professor of Marketing Kristina Durante’s (along with Ashley Rae Arsena) latest study, “Playing the Field: The Effect of Fertility on Women’s Desire for Variety.”
The lack of studies on women’s hormones provided inspiration when Durante was studying for her M.A. at the University of Chicago while assisting with studies on men and their testosterone levels. At the time, it was difficult to analyze women’s estrogen levels.
“You can’t show women an attractive man and manipulate her hormones. It has to be on a cycle because it is energetically costly for a woman to produce an egg while it is not energetically costly at all for a man to produce sperm,” explained Durante.
In her previous article, “Fertile and Selectively Flirty: Women’s Behavior Toward Men Changes Across the Ovulatory Cycle,” Durante suggests that women will put on what she calls “ovulation goggles” and seek out “sexy cads” (men who have derisible genetic fitness markers, but are unprofitable as long term partners) over men who will, no doubt, make good fathers.
Durante took this study to another level by adding consumer products to the equation.
“That loyalty for one man—which actually goes away at ovulation—is transferring over to brand loyalty. Women are now open to switching because now they want to get more information: is this the best type of man for me, or not; is this the best candy bar for me, or not?”
Using only women who were on a regular 28-day-cycle and who were not using hormonal contraceptives, Durante and Arsena conducted four studies that explored women’s psychological commitment to men and consumer products. In each study, the women were asked the same questions twice: once at high fertility and once at low fertility.
The first study was “Fertility, Variety Seeking, and the role of Mind-set,” where Durante and Arsena examined “whether women seek more variety in consumer choice sets at a high fertility rate and whether this effect is stronger for women in relationships.” They asked 144 U.S. women to consider their options in lipstick, high heels, yogurt and candy bars and asked a series of questions “to measure variety seeking mind-set.”
The study showed women in relationships, as opposed to single women, want more variety in consumer products.
The second study was “Fertility, Variety Seeking, and the moderating role of relationship security,” which compared women’s security in a relationship to consumer choices. Durante and Arsena asked 77 women at UTSA to pick five out of nine candy bars, followed by a series of questions to measure attachment bond strength to their partners, if they had any.
The results found that “women chose a greater number of unique candy bars at a high fertility point… and the effect was stronger for women in a relationship.” The study also suggested that “decreased feelings of security within social relationships can increase preference for variety in consumer products.”
The third study focused on “Suppressing the Effect of Fertility on Variety Seeking.” Using 282 women, Durante and Arsena tested the idea that “a mate retention motive would suppress the effect of fertility on variety seeking.” By first manipulating the women to imagine having a partner who was attractive, loyal, attentive and affectionate, Durante asked them to choose from a sorted list of nail polish, high heels, restaurants and candy bars.
The results suggested “increasing a women’s desire to retain a current partner (even an imagined partner) can suppress the effect of fertility on women’s desire for variety.”
The final study was on “Enhancing Thoughts of Commitment Via Removal and Replacement of a Wedding Ring.” Using 50 married women, the duo tested what a removal of a wedding ring can do to women’s desire for variety in consumer products during ovulation. The women were asked to choose from candy bars or restaurants, once with their rings on and once with their rings off.
The results showed that “participants felt significantly less committed when they were asked to take off their wedding ring compared to when they were asked to put their wedding ring back on,” which fascinated Durante. As she points out, this particular study has never been done before.
Overall, Durante and Arsena found that fertility does impact women’s choices in men and consumer products, especially when adding the variable of committing to a partner.
“We find that women want to get additional information on men—we want to evaluate as many men as we possibly can,” Durante said.
Durante stresses that getting additional information on men is not the same as becoming sexually involved with them.