Self-development-oriented competitiveness fluctuates across the menstrual cycle, according to new research published in Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology. But hormonal contraceptives appear to interfere with this effect.
“I’ve always been really interested in what drives behaviour but, over time, I have been more and more interested in the relationship between the brain and our biology,” said study author Lindsie Catherine Arthur, a PhD candidate at The University of Melbourne.
Hormones play an important role in lots of biological processes, like growth and development or sexual function. There are lots of ways that hormones are thought to influence behaviour, but empirical research is still catching up. It’s those things that I am interested in understanding.
The researchers recruited 278 women (average age 26) from 21 different countries. Eight-six participants were hormonal contraception users, while the other 192 women were not. The participants completed a brief prescreening and baseline survey to collect demographic and menstrual cycle characteristics, followed by 28-days of daily surveys.
Competitiveness was measured using a scientifically-validated questionnaire known as the Multidimensional Competitive Orientation Inventory, which assesses four different types of competitive tendencies: hypercompetitive orientation, self-developmental competitive orientation, anxiety-driven competition avoidance, and lack of interest toward competition.
The researchers found that naturally-cycling women experienced a mid-cycle increase in self-development competitiveness. But this was not observed among women using hormonal contraception. People with a high level of self-development competitiveness agree with statements such as “Competitive situations allow me to bring the best out of myself”, “I enjoy testing myself in competitive situations,” and “I enjoy competition as it allows me to discover my abilities.”
The findings indicate “that competitive motivation fluctuates across the menstrual cycle, with periods of high fertility associated with higher competitiveness,” Arthur told PsyPost. “However, hormonal contraceptives disrupt the natural cycle and blunt the expected peak in competitiveness that is observed around ovulation. Importantly, this study does not say that hormonal contraceptive users are less competitive than naturally cycling women overall.”
But as with any study, the new research includes some caveats.
“This research used self-report measures and didn’t look directly at behaviour, instead we asked women how much they enjoyed competitive situations or how much they wanted to beat other people. We are now looking at a range of behaviours that research tells us women use to compete. For example, we are measuring things like appearance enhancement and gossip, which can be used to compete with others.”
The study, “Fertility predicts self-development-oriented competitiveness in naturally cycling women but not hormonal contraceptive users“, was authored by Lindsie C. Arthur and Khandis R. Blake.