Women tend to generate more novel ideas during ovulation compared to non-fertile phases of their ovulatory cycle, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology. The findings add to a growing body of research that indicates creativity plays a role in sexual selection.
“I am generally interested in evolutionary psychology, as it can explain the functionality of many of our traits,” said study author Katarzyna Galasinska, PhD candidate at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw. “As humans, we had to develop qualities helping us to deal with survival and reproduction. It applies to both physical and psychological traits. We can easily infer that traits pointing to health and strength correspond to survival, but beauty is not required for survival. Instead, it can really upgrade our reproductive value, and due to that, all aspects associated with our mate value.”
“Creativity seems to be an ontologically old trait. It is defined as a capacity to make something new and useful, so it probably helped our ancestors to deal with survival. However, it is only the lower half of creativity that is associated with problem-solving and intellectual qualities. All the rest of creativity has strong connectivity with beauty. And that means, it could be linked to reproduction, helping to attract mates.”
“As we can see, love can be really inspiring for artists,” Galasinska explained. “Of course, it is hard to prove that creativity evolved through sexual selection, as a sort of signal attracting mates’ attention. It surely found a lot of different applications across time. But if we assume such an explanation, we can look for evidence hypothesizing ‘what if’. And if studies confirm all these hypothetical situations, we can trust our assumptions more.”
“So, if creativity has developed as a signal for mates, it should be enhanced for example during the fertile phase of the ovulatory cycle in women. And this is what I tried to solve in my studies. I have already showed this effect in my previous study using self-reporting ovulatory cycle data. In this latest study, I used more reliable measures of the cycle phase to be sure of its relevance. However, there are many more situations to explore, also associated with intrasexual competition.”
In her previous work, Galasinska found that the originality of women’s ideas increased as the probability of conception increased during the ovulation cycle. However, in that study, the participants reported the first day of their last period and the researchers used that information to estimate the current cycle phase.
In their new study, the researchers used more reliable measures (saliva- and urine-based test kits) to determine menstrual cycle phases in 72 women between the ages of 18 and 35. The participants were not pregnant, breast feeding, or using hormonal contraceptives.
The participants completed validated measures of creativity during the follicular, ovulatory, and late luteal phases of their menstrual cycle. One creativity assessment was the Alternative Uses Test, in which the women were asked to list as many alternative uses as possible for an everyday object. Their ideas were then scored by four trained, independent raters. The other assessment was the Remote Associates Test, in which the participants were shown three words and asked to come up with a fourth word related to all of them.
In line with the previous study, the researchers found that ideas generated during the Alternative Uses Test tended to be the most original during the ovulatory phase. The results provide additional evidence that “women’s fertility may be associated with mental abilities such as creativity,” Galasinska told PsyPost.
“So, maybe monitoring the ovulatory cycle can help women understand their mentality and to resonate with it. In this view, all fertility-altering agents should be treated with caution. In one of my previous studies, I tested creativity in women taking contraception and I found no changes across the cycle. Furthermore, the originality of ideas among these women was lower compared to naturally cycling women.”
On a broader level, the findings also indicate that “creativity may be associated with mating, helping women to attract potential mates,” Galasinska said. “Other studies showed that both sexes value creativity in a potential partner and I showed that it can be a sort of a tactic. Specifically, being original may be functional in this context.”
But fertility was not associated with scores on the Remote Associates Test — which measures a type of creativity known as convergent thinking.
“We need many more studies to indicate that creativity may be an adaptation to mating,” Galasinska said. “It should be tested in many contexts associated with increased mating motivation, such as attraction to a partner or rivalry for a partner, both in women and men.”
“We also still don’t know the mechanism of enhanced creativity during ovulation. I tried to look for arousal or mood as mediating variables, but found no effects. Hormonal studies would also be enriching. Evolutionary psychology provides explanations as to why the phenomenon probably occurred in our past, but it does not prevent us from looking for factors that can promote it here and now.”
The study, “Enhanced Originality of Ideas in Women During Ovulation: A Within-Subject Design Study“, was authored by Katarzyna Galasinska and Aleksandra Szymkow.