Menstrual cycle shifts in attentional bias for courtship language

Maya L. Rosen, Skidmore College
Hassan H. López, Skidmore College


The current study investigated whether women show an attentional bias toward courtship language during the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle. Thirty heterosexual women (17 naturally cycling, 13 using hormonal contraceptives) completed a dichotic listening task on both a high and low fertility day of their menstrual cycle. Participants were asked to verbally repeat (shadow) an emotionally neutral target passage played in one ear while either a neutral or courtship distracter was played in the other ear. Courtship distracters were flirtatious in content but not overtly sexual. Shadowing errors were coded as a measure of attentional bias toward the distracter. Saliva samples were taken to determine whether levels of estradiol, progesterone and/or testosterone correlated with task performance. As predicted, naturally cycling women made more shadowing errors when listening to a courtship distracter during the fertile phase of their cycle than during the nonfertile phase. This effect was moderated by relationship status, such that fertile, mated women showed an attentional bias for courtship language but fertile single women did not. However, because of small sample sizes in the analysis, this relationship should be viewed as preliminary. Hormonal analysis revealed that higher levels of salivary estradiol predicted greater attentional bias toward courtship language in naturally cycling women. These results suggest that women's attention is drawn to verbal courtship signals when they are fertile, and that this shift is linked to increased estradiol release during the periovulatory phase. © 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.