Ovulation Studies Under Attack?

A recent article published by the online magazine Slate.com criticized “ovulation studies,” or psychological research that examines how females’ thoughts, feelings, and behavior change when they are at the most fertile point in their menstrual cycle. The article claims to point out “the many weaknesses of ovulation studies,” but centers around one recent study that was conducted to examine how ovulation influences women's clothing preferences. Based on the tone of the Slate article, its author, Jessica Grose, appears to be most upset that researchers want to use information gained from the clothing study to find out how to advertise more strategically to women. While this may be an unrealistic goal, it doesn’t mean that other ovulation studies have “many weakness”, are a poor use of grant money, or are not scientifically rigorous and important. For example, UCLA psychology professor Martie Haselton and members of her lab conduct ovulation studies that involve a high degree of scientific rigor and ask important, interesting questions about how women think about themselves, and their relationships, at various points in their cycles. While it is true that some of these effects have not yet been replicated, that it is a criticism that could be directed at most scientific research, from ovulation studies to genetic studies. There is always the possibility that scientific research “could be inaccurate due to chance factors”, as stated by Harriet Hall in the Slate piece, but again, this possibility is not exclusive to ovulation studies.

And given that many hours and tax-dollars have been spent on research that examines animal mating and fertility-signaling behavior, isn’t it only fair that we attempt to understand such behavior in humans?  Just because ovulation studies garner media attention or are written up with cheesy headlines does not mean they aren’t worthwhile.