Think you find potential romantic partners attractive solely because of the way they look? Not so! The kind of compliments they pay you–and at what point they pay these compliments in your monthly cycle–can actually play a key role in how attractive you perceive them to be.
That’s the news from new study in the journal Scientific Reports that showed photos of male faces to 124 heterosexual women throughout their monthly cycle along with text paying compliments using two different language styles:
- Literal compliments: These are compliments that use straight-forward language, for example, “Your hair smells nice.”
- Metaphorical compliments: These are compliments that use metaphors (equating something to another idea or object), for example, “Your hair is a flaxen sea.”
And they included compliments that had two distinct targets:
- Appearance: The female viewer’s hair, face, body, etc.
- Possessions: The female viewer’s garden, car, home, etc.
The type of compliments women prefer–and when
According to the results of the study, women prefer specific types of compliments–and these preferences are impacted by where they are in their monthly cycles as well as their relationship status. Here’s what the researchers found:
- Women prefer flowery language all cycle long: Women perceive potential romantic partners who use metaphorical compliments as more attractive than those who use literal compliments regardless of where they are in their monthly cycles. And this is especially true when the compliments are highly creative.
- Women respond more to compliments about their appearance: When given a choice, women are more likely to favor someone who liked something about the way they looked over something they owned.
- Women in relationships enjoy flirting when fertile: Women in romantic relationships are more attracted to someone other than their mate who compliments their appearance when that compliment is made on the days leading up to and including ovulation, which is when fertility is highest.
- Single women prefer compliments premenstrually: Single women prefer potential romantic partners who compliment their appearance in their Week 3 and Week 4–the two weeks before their period.
What’s behind these results?
So, what makes women prefer certain compliments at certain times in their cycle based on their relationship status? Let’s break it down by finding:
First, women prefer metaphors over literal compliments because coming up with complex images is a sign of higher intelligence and creativity, which can indicate better genes. It also explains why so many poets, musicians and other artistically-inclined folks are often flocked by adoring women.
Women tend to prefer compliments paid about their appearance over something they own because it often denotes that the person making the compliment has a romantic interest rather than just a platonic, friendly one.
As for women in relationships preferring compliments about their appearance in their fertile phase, the study authors point out that when women are in relationships, they get a biological urge during ovulation to take another look around the dating pool to see if there’s someone else with stronger genes with whom to mate than their current partner. As a result, women who are hitched are more receptive to compliments about their appearance from others since it may lead to pairing up with someone who can give them healthier offspring than their current mate.
The researchers weren’t sure what to make of single women who prefer compliments about their appearance during the two weeks leading up to their period. My personal hunch is that it’s because on these days women feel more self-conscious about their appearance due to lower estrogen reducing their self-confidence and higher progesterone triggering water retention and constipation, making them feel a little heavier. So, compliments about appearance may serve to boost their mood by countering this dip in confidence.
Who spots flirting first–married women or single women?
As a sidenote, this study revealed something interesting about female behavior: Turns out, women in relationships are faster at detecting when someone is flirting with them than single women. In fact, the study found that single women were pretty lousy at sensing when someone was showing romantic interest all cycle long.
This result echoes a similar finding from a 2009 study in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior that showed women in committed relationships were more attuned to flirtatious language than single women.
Whether this means that women in relationships are hitched because they’re better at recognizing flirtations than single women or they develop this heightened sense after settling down is not yet known.
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