The Proverbial Ticking Biological Clock: A Symbolic TMT Perspective on Mate Perception

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Virginia Tech


Past research has shown that mortality salience increases desire for offspring. Additionally, past studies have illustrated that women in a high fertility phase within a menstrual cycle show greater preference for masculine faces while performing facial judgment tasks than do women in a low fertility phase or women using hormonal contraception. However, mortality salience has been shown to influence mate selection. The current study explored whether or not a cue related to fertility salience may produce similar outcomes to cues of mortality salience observed in past studies. In partial replication of a study conducted by Vaughn, Bradley, Byrd-Craven, and Kennison (2010), the current study included 151 heterosexual female participants who self-identified as falling within cyclical high fertility or low fertility categories, or who reported using hormonal contraception. These participants were randomly assigned to either a control condition, a mortality salience condition, or a fertility salience condition and then instructed to judge images of male faces provided by Re, DeBruine, Jones, and Perrett (2013). Participants rated faces in categories of attractiveness, dominance, and health. The study predicted significant interaction effects of salience condition and fertility status on opposite sex facial perceptions. Additionally, participants were asked about procreation preferences. No effects of mortality salience or fertility salience were observed in regard to opposite sex facial perceptions, number of children desired, or preferred age for having a first child. Thus, the current research does not provide support that the fertility salience cue used in the study influences opposite sex perceptions or procreation preferences.



facial perceptions, terror management theory, fertility, hormonal status