A new study has linked racial prejudice to women’s menstrual cycle
[Much of the focus of 13.7 Billion Years has been to highlight the bad decisions that humans make that have detrimental effects such as species extinction, loss of biodiversity, animal abuse and the degradation of public health and the environment. For the month of June, the weekday series “Gray Matters” will take a look at research that has shed light on the inner workings of the mysterious and frustratingly complex marvel that is the human brain. The future health of the planet depends largely on the actions that mankind collectively makes — actions that are ultimately the result of billions of individual choices made every day, at every moment. But in order to start making better choices, it’s important to figure out how and why choices are made in the first place.]
According to legend (and recounted by Livy and Plutarch), the first generation of Roman men abducted women from a neighboring tribe known as the Sabines to take as their wives. The story, known as the Rape of the Sabine Women, was a popular subject for several Renaissance artists, such as Giambologna, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacques-Louis David and Nicolas Poussin (shown here). Pablo Picasso depicted the story in a 1962 painting.
Rape has been one of the three pillars of military aggression throughout human history (along with pillage and plunder), and it seems that women have developed evolutionary responses both psychologically and physically to help combat it.
Past studies have shown that during the fertile phase of a menstrual cycle, women have an increased suspicion of unfamiliar men, greater risk aversion and increased physical strength when threatened.
Now a new study by researchers at Michigan State University has found that that fertile women are more biased against men of different races and social groups. Importantly, the increased bias occurred only if the women perceived such men as physically threatening. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study appears online in Psychological Science .
“Our findings suggest that women’s prejudice, at least in part, may be a byproduct of their biology,” said the study’s lead author Melissa McDonald in a press release. She noted that sexual aggression by male “invaders” has been a pervasive problem for women since ancient times.
McDonald and Carlos David Navarrete, assistant professor of psychology and research team leader, said their findings are consistent with the concept that prejudice among women may reflect a psychological, evolutionary tactic meant to protect against sexual coercion by men, particularly during times when rape might lead to unwanted pregnancy, i.e., fertile periods.
“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.”
GET INVOLVED @ 13.7 BILLION YEARS — “Putting the sapiens back into Homo sapiens since 2008”