Women demonstrate greater creativity during ovulation, possibly as a signal of reproductive fitness

According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, women demonstrate increased creative thinking when they are the most fertile, during the ovulation phase of the reproductive cycle. The findings suggest that creativity may be a sexually selected trait that signals a woman’s reproductive fitness.

Studies have shown that women’s peak fertility aligns with certain cues that encourage mating behavior. For example, women are perceived as more attractive during ovulation, the phase of the reproductive cycle with the highest chance of pregnancy. Some studies suggest that women also experience greater arousal and sexual desire during this time.

Emerging research suggests that women may display cognitive changes during ovulation as well. In particular, preliminary studies have found that women are more creative at the time of ovulation. A researcher called Geoffrey Miller first proposed that creativity serves as a fitness indicator that communicates a person’s good health and genes.

Study authors Katarzyna Galasinska and Aleksandra Szymkow wanted to replicate these initial findings by testing whether women’s creativity scores would align with their ovulation cycles. They also aimed to test whether increased arousal could explain this effect.

The study involved 751 Polish women with natural cycles. The women reported that they were not using hormonal contraceptives and were not pregnant. The participants also indicated the date of the first day of their last menstruation, and the researchers used this information to calculate each woman’s day-specific probability of conception.

Participants also completed a self-report measure of arousal and partook in a creative task to measure divergent thinking. During the task, the women were shown a picture and asked to come up with as many questions about the picture as they could within five minutes. Four independent raters then judged the participants’ responses according to originality, fluency, and flexibility.

In line with expectations, participants’ probabilities of conception were positively related to the originality and flexibility of their responses. This suggests that women who were the most fertile came up with questions that were more original and more varied than the women who were less fertile.

Women with higher conception probabilities also scored higher in arousal, although this relationship fell below significance. Moreover, contrary to the study authors’ hypotheses, arousal did not mediate the relationships between conception probability and either creative originality or flexibility. The researchers maintain that this does not mean that arousal was not a relevant factor, noting that arousal can still influence a person’s cognition without them being aware of it. The study used a self-report measure of arousal and slight changes in arousal might not have been noticed by participants and therefore not captured. Future studies should use physiological measures of arousal to address this possibility.

Galasinska and Szymkow report that their study successfully replicated previous evidence showing that women demonstrate greater creativity during the ovulation phase. These findings fall in line with Miller’s proposal that creativity is a sexually selected trait and a fitness indicator. They note that creative originality reflects an “uncommonness and novelty” that likely attracts the attention of potential mates.

The study, “The More Fertile, the More Creative: Changes in Women’s Creative Potential across the Ovulatory Cycle”, was authored by Katarzyna Galasinska and Aleksandra Szymkow.