24 Nov Surprising cycle days when you want to get even
- During ovulation, you’re more likely to get angry and retaliate when treated unfairly due to a rise in testosterone, study shows.
UPDATED NOVEMBER 24, 2022 (originally published March 10, 2019)—Imagine a scenario where someone treats you really unfairly. Maybe a store manager wrongly accuses you of shoplifting. An auto technician inflates the cost of a repair because that person assumes you don’t know anything about cars. Or maybe you lost out on a promotion–even though your work is top-notch and your reviews are always great–because you’re told you “just don’t look like a manager”.
When you think of which days in your menstrual cycle you’re more likely to get angry over being treated unfairly and want to retaliate, which days come to mind?
Probably your premenstrual Week 4 (the six days leading up to your period), right? Well, that’s one possibility. That’s because plunging estrogen can sap your patience and spur irritability on its own. Throw some highly unfair treatment into that mix and it’s a recipe for blowing your top and plotting revenge.
But, researchers say there’s a different time in your monthly cycle when you’re actually more prone to experiencing anger at unfair treatment and want to get even. And, what they discovered is surprising.
When “reactive aggression” peaks in your cycle
If you’ve been studying Hormonology and, as a result, know how hormones impact your moods throughout your menstrual cycle, then you know that during your Week 2 (the week leading up to and including ovulation), high-and-rising estrogen tends to fill you with positivity, optimism and other good feelings. That’s because an elevated level of this rising hormone spurs a greater production of brain chemicals that put you in a more joyous state. Oh, you’ll still have a moments where you’re stressed or down, but when life is at an even keel, this tends to be a happy time for most.
So, it may come as a surprise to learn that researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany and University of Bern in Switzerland found that during ovulation–which occurs at the end of your Week 2 when estrogen is at its peak–you’re actually more likely to get angry and want to retaliate when treated extremely unfairly.1
Why would this happy high-estrogen cycle phase also be one where you’re most vengeful? The study authors point to another hormone: testosterone.
Women churn out a low amount of this hormone all cycle long, but we experience a slight increase in testosterone at ovulation.
This increase, they say, is enough to spur “reactive aggression” in social situations–the kind of anger and desire to fight back that occurs in the moment in response to grossly unfair treatment.
And, women with higher overall levels of testosterone have an even greater negative response to exceedingly unfair social situations.
How was this studied?
In their 2018 study, the researchers recruited 40 women between the ages of 19 and 38 with healthy natural menstrual cycles (meaning no hormone contraceptives).
They asked the women to visit their lab on two occasions: once at ovulation when testosterone was higher and once in their Week 3 (luteal phase) when testosterone was lower.
To confirm ovulation, they used One Step Ovulation test strips, which measure the amount of luteinizing hormone (LH) in urine. A surge of LH means ovulation is occurring in the next 24 to 36 hours.
They also used salivary tests to measure testosterone levels.
During each visit to the lab, the researchers asked the female volunteers to play a (kind of mean) bargaining game called the Ultimatum Game. In it, the volunteers are paired with another player who they’re told is a university student (but in reality is a fake stand-in) who has the power to split a wad of cash between them.
If the study volunteer agrees to the kind of split the other (fake) player offers, then both players get to keep the money. That fake player can make any kind of offer–a fair offer, such as 50/50, a slightly unfair offer, such as 70/30, or a really unfair offer, such as 90/10.
If the study volunteer declines the offer, neither she nor the fake player gets the cash.
Basically, the goal is to make the female study volunteer feel insulted by offering her a really unfair offer where she gets very little of the cash and the fake player gets most of it.
As a result of feeling insulted, her irritation and desire to retaliate would spur her to decline the offer–even if she stands to get money she didn’t have before. That’s because she wants to punish the fake player by denying that person the money, too.
This proves that her anger got the better of her judgment, which is an indication of her level of reactive aggression.
What the study found
As part of their study, the researchers wanted to find out if rejection rates of the unfair offers differed based on where the women were in their menstrual cycle. This would indicate how aggressive women would get based on where they were in their cycles while in real-life social situations where they were being treated unfairly.
The researchers also wanted to find out if a woman’s testosterone level was linked to how much anger she felt as a result of being treated unfairly.
What they discovered: After ruling out effects from estrogen and the stress hormone cortisol, the researchers found that when testosterone is higher during ovulation, the female participants were far more likely to decline offers from the other player when the offer to split the cash was extremely unfair (such as 90/10).
In other words, women get angrier and more vengeful at ovulation due to testosterone.
Additionally, the researchers discovered that women with overall higher levels of testosterone had an even greater amount of anger and desire to retaliate. This further supported their theory that testosterone was the hormone behind women’s reactive aggression mid-cycle.
What’s this mean for you?
During ovulation, keep in mind that a naturally-occurring increase in your testosterone level can make you react more strongly in social situations where you feel like you’re being singled out, rejected or are experiencing extremely unfair treatment other ways. You may feel a sudden surge of anger and desire to retaliate.
If it’s inappropriate to blow your top or exact revenge, then take a moment to pause and consider other options that may be available. Or at least step away from the situation…then vent your irritation at a friend and fantasize about what kind of vengeance you’d exact if you could.
To find out more surprising, study-backed ways that the hormones in your menstrual cycle are impacting you, check out my award-winning book, 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals About Your Moods, Health and Potential.
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(1) Fabian Probst, et al., “Reactive aggression tracks within-participant changes in women’s salivary testosterone”, Aggressive Behavior, published online March 12, 2018