OVULATE TO CREATE
an online questionnaire study reported that women were more 'creative' - by a miniscule amount - when the researchers estimated that they were most fertile. the data are bad; the motivation worse.
this story was in episode 19 #ovulation #creativity #Darwin #Qualtrics
the error bar says
reporting on a piece of tabloid gold, the Daily Mail tells us that 'women are more creative during the fertile stage of their monthly cycles'. that's a direct quote from the headline & i apologise in advance for the large proportion of listeners likely offended by this story...
...the paper, by social scientists in Warsaw, reports a study of 'signalling theory' - the Darwinian idea that male peacocks attract females by showing off their feathers. later theorists have argued that human creativity is, & i quote: an "artistic ornamentation beyond the body [which] extends the natural sexual human adornments such as penises, beards, breasts & buttocks".
to find out if women use their creativity like they do their breasts, 1045 women aged 18-35 were recruited through Facebook. those who reported being pregnant, having infants, breastfeeding, or being on the contraceptive pill were removed.
the women reported when their last period was, so the researchers could estimate when they were most fertile. during an online test, the women were then given five minutes to ask as many creative questions as possible about an ambiguous image on screen.
the data from 751 respondents showed that their estimated fertility was associated with more flexible & original thinking, but not with more fluency of thought.
does ovulation make women creative?
i'm going to stick my neck out here & say: no.
it's not just that i'm inherently suspicious of Darwinian evolutionary psychologists asking women to tell them about their last period, rather it's the quality of the study.
first, it's an online, self-report study. the researchers have no way of knowing that the people completing the study are, in fact, women of the target age group.
second, assuming that the respondents are indeed ovulating young women completing the tasks honestly & accurately, the data are of mixed quality. of the three creativity ratings used - fluency, flexibility & originality - the researchers agreed with each other very well about what the fluency ratings meant, but much less well on the other two. yet it was those other two ratings that showed the strongest effects of estimated fertility. it raises suspicions when the worst data are used to make the strongest claims.
third, figure 1 in the report, showing the data itself, is, er, creative at best, but a travesty at worst - it's not clear what the horizontal & vertical axes of the graph show. probability of conception, for example, is on a scale of 0 to 13. probabilities don't go up to 13! & for some unknowable reason, all the data on the vertical axis have been artificially shifted apart. if regression equations & error bars had even been given, i might be able to say more.
fourth, even if the respondents were all ovulating women, and all the data well-analysed, maybe, as acknowledged by the authors, women are a just bit less creative when suffering period pain, rather than being more creative when ovulating.