Assets at risk: menstrual cycle variation in the envisioned formidability of a potential sexual assailant reveals a component of threat assessment

Daniel M. T. Fessler, Colin Holbrook, Diana Santos Fleischman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Situations of potential agonistic conflict demand rapid and effective decision-making. The process of threat assessment includes assessments of relative fighting capacity, assessments of the likelihood of attack, and assessments of the extent to which one′s assets are at risk. The dimensions of physical size and strength appear to serve as key parameters in a cognitive representation summarizing multiple constituents of threat assessment. Here, we examine the thesis that this same representation summarizes asset risk. The fitness costs of sexual assault are in part a function of conception risk, as pregnancy due to assault compromises female choice and imperils existing and subsequent male investment. Prior research indicates that women′s attitudes and behaviors vary systematically across the menstrual cycle in a manner that would have reduced the likelihood of sexual assault during periods of greatest fertility in ancestral women. If the envisioned size and strength of a potential antagonist is used to represent asset risk, and if the threat that sexual assault poses to a woman′s reproductive assets is in part a product of her fertility, then the conceptualized size and strength of a potential sexual assailant should be a function of conception risk. We find support for this prediction in a large sample of naturally-cycling women in urban Southern California, indicating that asset risk is summarized using the same representation as relative fighting capacity and likelihood of attack. Presumably, this elegant use of a single representation for multiple aspects of threat assessment facilitates rapid decision-making in agonistic contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number0
Pages (from-to)270-290
Number of pages21
JournalAdaptive Human Behavior and Physiology
Volume1
Early online date19 Aug 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Assets at risk: menstrual cycle variation in the envisioned formidability of a potential sexual assailant reveals a component of threat assessment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this