Effects of the menstrual cycle on looking preferences for faces in female rhesus monkeys

  • Lacreuse A
  • Martin-Malivel J
  • Lange H
 et al. 
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Fluctuations of ovarian hormones across the menstrual cycle influence a variety of social and cognitive behaviors in primates. For example, female rhesus monkeys exhibit heightened interest for males and increased agonistic interactions with other females during periods of high estrogen levels. In the present study, we hypothesized that females' preference for males during periods of high estrogen levels is also expressed at the level of face perception. We tested four intact females on two face-tasks involving neutral portraits of male and female rhesus monkeys, chimpanzees and humans. In the visual preference task (VP), monkeys had to touch a button to view a face image. The image remained on the screen as long as the button was touched, and the duration of pressing was taken as an index of the monkey's looking time for the face stimulus. In the Face-Delayed Recognition Span Test (Face-DRST), monkeys were rewarded for touching the new face in an increasing number of serially presented faces. Monkeys were tested 5 days a week across one menstrual cycle. Blood was collected every other day for analysis of estradiol and progesterone. Two of the four females were cycling at the time of testing. We did not find an influence of the cycle on Face-DRST, likely due to a floor effect. In the VP however, the two cycling individuals looked longer at conspecific male faces than female faces during the peri-ovulatory period of the cycle. Such effects were absent for human and chimpanzee faces and for the two noncycling subjects. These data suggest that ovarian hormones may influence females' preferences for specific faces, with heightened preference for male faces during the peri-ovulatory period of the cycle. Heightened interest for stimuli of significant reproductive relevance during periods of high conception risk may help guide social and sexual behavior in the rhesus monkey.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Cognition
  • Estrogen
  • Face perception
  • Mate choice
  • Memory
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Sexual selection

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