Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

How women’s brains light up to macho men

Posted in news by jenapincott on November 29, 2008

campaign_marlboroDo Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes? is a book about unconscious, under-the-radar biases when it comes to dating and mating. Of those blind biases, one of the most fascinating, at least to me, is the way women’s tastes in men shift in favor of masculinized faces and dominant behaviors when women are most likely to conceive.

A new brain imaging study led by Heather Rupp at the Kinsey Institute found neural evidence that brain activity is different during the high-fertility phase of the cycle. Near ovulation, gals who look at masculine Marlboro Man-type faces light up in their anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a region of the brain associated with decision-making and the evaluation of risk and reward. The ACC is activated when you’re in conflict about something, and it also helps regulate blood pressure and heart rate. (Interestingly, artificial stimulation of the ACC has also been found to ease depression.)

Tough guy types might be riskier but more rewarding, which gets the ACC all hot and bothered. From an evolutionary perspective, a dominant macho man seems like a good mate because his high-testosterone traits suggest good genes and healthy development. Unconsciously, you might want to bear this man’s child. But not all macho types are exactly daddy types. Consciously, you might know better.


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  1. […] physically dominant men. Very masculine faces, bodies, behaviors, scents… these qualities are more attractive to women in the five-day window leading up to ovulation. Another study found that a chemical found in the sweat of high-testosterone men may hasten the […]

  2. […] [Incidentally, women's anterior cingulate cortex is most active when we're ovulating and attracted to… The ACC is activated when you're in conflict about something. Also a self-protection mechanism warning us to proceed with caution?] […]

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