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Open Access Research article

“I like the way you move”: how hormonal changes across the menstrual cycle affect female perceptions of gait

Rick van der Zwan* and Natasha Herbert

Author Affiliations

Psychology, Southern Cross University, Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:453  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-453

Published: 21 August 2012

Abstract

Background

Variations in hormone concentrations across the menstrual cycle affect human female mate preferences. It has been shown that around the time of ovulation human females prefer more masculine male voices, faces, and bodies while simultaneously preferring less faces that are more feminine. They prefer also displays of male dominance, males with more symmetrical faces, and the scent of males with high levels of body symmetry. The aim of the experiments reported here was to investigate whether there are changes in female preferences for walking gaits across the menstrual cycle.

Results

Experiment 1 showed female observers could discriminate between point-light walkers with low and high levels of fluctuating asymmetries in their gaits. Female observers were more sensitive to asymmetries in female gaits than they were for asymmetries in male gaits. Experiment 2 showed that level of gait asymmetry did not affect the abilities of observers to discriminate female from male walkers. Experiment 3 showed that female observers did not change their preference for low and high asymmetry walkers across their menstrual cycles. However, females showed a decreased preference for all female walkers at the time during which it was estimated observers were at peak fertility. That same change in preference was not observed for male walkers.

Conclusions

These data suggest female observers may not value gait asymmetry, as a mate selection cue, in the same way that they value asymmetries in faces and bodies. While only “average” gaits were used in these experiments, rather than the gaits of individual walkers, the types of asymmetries in gait tested here were not used in the same way as static cues for judging the apparent healthiness of individuals. Females do discriminate well average female gait asymmetries and do change their preferences for those gaits across their menstrual cycle. Doing so may reflect the operation of processes that equip females with an advantage when competing for mates at times of peak fertility.