Study: A woman’s estradiol levels do not predict her preference towards facial masculinity

Research published in the journal Hormones and Behavior failed to find a relationship between a woman’s estradiol levels and her preference towards male facial masculinity.

Previous research had suggested that women’s preferences for male traits fluctuated across the menstrual cycle because of changes in hormone levels.

The new study measured the estradiol levels of 115 women daily for an entire cycle. But the researchers failed to find evidence that the women’s preferences for men’s facial masculinity fluctuated across the menstrual cycle. Women preferred more masculine faces, for both short- and long-term relationships, regardless of their level of fertility.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s lead author, Urszula M. Marcinkowska of Jagiellonian University. Read her responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Marcinkowska: I think it is fascinating how much of what we do and think depends on our body, namely hormonal state of our bodies. Sometimes we feel angry or happy without apparent reason. Often also we can observe that different people react or cope with certain situations in an extremely different ways, and often we do not know why. I think that understanding better the hormonal underpinning of daily human interactions can give us very interesting insight towards better understanding of ourselves. The case of sex hormones and their influence on fluctuation of women’s moods and preferences throughout the menstrual cycle is especially interesting to me, as we can see a lot of changes within one organism that repeat cyclically.

What should the average person take away from your study?

In our study we investigated relations between sex hormones and fluctuating preferences towards men’s facial masculinity. There is a theory that says, that women should prefer more masculine-looking men in times when they are fertile (around ovulation that takes place mid-cycle. In our study we did not find such a change in preference, and what more we did not find a relation between estradiol and preference (estradiol being sex hormone responsible for ovulation and fertility).

What is the scope of the study? Are there any major caveats?

I would say the scope of our findings is very broad, as all healthy women who do not take hormonal contraception experience hormonal fluctuations throughout the cycle. Caveat of this study was that we could measure preferences of each woman only once during one cycle – we could only compare preferences between participants. In a study we just finalized this fall, we covered this issue by organizing multiple testing sessions per each participant throughout entire menstrual cycle.

What major questions still need to be addressed?

If fluctuations within the cycle exist, what exact hormones do they depend on? Do all women experience these preference fluctuations? If fluctuations exist, preference for which exact feature do they affect?

The study, “Lack of support for relation between woman’s masculinity preference, estradiol level and mating context,” was co-authored by Peter T. Ellison, Andrzej Galbarczyk, Karolina Milkowska, Boguslaw Pawlowski, Inger Thune, and Grazyna Jasienska.