Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Second Bad Research (and) Popularization Today: The Disappearing CNN Study

They removed it darnit!

But I have it saved.  Besides,  the same piece is available here (via Greg Mitchell).  The title has a subtitle which runs like this:

Hormones may influence female voting choices

Yes, my sweeties, the popularization concerns an evo-psycho study, carried out by the same Kristina Durante whose work has appeared on this blog before (here, here and here).  She's into figuring out the female human animal!   Durante appears to believe that human female animals shouldn't have careers, jobs or education and that voting might be a bit beyond them, too.  Because, after all, they are animals, too, and must have animal behavior and so on.

I exaggerate and go all emotional there.  Must be those hormones.  How odd that evolutionary psychologists pay so little attention to male hormones!  When they do, it's to prove that testosterone makes men better financial analysts and so on.  One might almost think that the narrow field of Evolutionary Psychology (the nutty kind) has a hidden subtext.

Let's take a few deep breaths and calm down.  Why was this particular study deemed worthy of closer inspection by, before the uproar made them pull it out?

The real reason is probably that it was posted as click bait.  Never mind if the study itself looks pretty bad, it has a sexee topic:  How women stink.

A short summary of the study:

A bit of background: Women are more likely to vote than men, other studies have found. Current data suggest married women favor Gov. Mitt Romney, in a 19% difference, over President Barack Obama, while Obama commands the votes of single women by a 33% margin, according to the study. And previous studies have shown that political and religious attitudes may be influenced by reproductive goals.
In the new study's first experiment, Kristina Durante of the University of Texas, San Antonio and colleagues conducted an internet survey of 275 women who were not taking hormonal contraception and had regular menstrual cycles. About 55% were in committed relationships, including marriage.
They found that women at their most fertile times of the month were less likely to be religious if they were single, and more likely to be religious if they were in committed relationships.
Now for the even more controversial part: 502 women, also with regular periods and not taking hormonal contraception, were surveyed on voting preferences and a variety of political issues.
The researchers found that during the fertile time of the month, when levels of the hormone estrogen are high, single women appeared more likely to vote for Obama and committed women appeared more likely to vote for Romney, by a margin of at least 20%, Durante said. This seems to be the driver behind the researchers' overall observation that single women were inclined toward Obama and committed women leaned toward Romney.
Here’s how Durante explains this: When women are ovulating, they “feel sexier,” and therefore lean more toward liberal attitudes on abortion and marriage equality. Married women have the same hormones firing, but tend to take the opposite viewpoint on these issues, she says.
“I think they’re overcompensating for the increase of the hormones motivating them to have sex with other men,” she said. It’s a way of convincing themselves that they’re not the type to give in to such sexual urges, she said.

Durante’s previous research found that women’s ovulation cycles also influence their shopping habits, buying sexier clothes during their most fertile phase.

I have bolded the most important bit.  A warning:  I have not scrutinized the study itself.  But even without that work, that bolded segment is utter rubbish.

It makes no sense at all.  First, if ovulating women desire to have sex with other men than their regular partners (and that is a humongous, humongous if), we should note that both Romney and Obama ARE "other men."  Unless the study included Michelle Obama and Ann Romney.

Second, there is no evolutionary argument which would explain why "feeling sexier" would make a woman more likely to support liberal attitudes on abortion and marriage equality.

Third, and this is the most crucial criticism:  It's very bad to argue that because married ovulating women didn't go for Obama then they must be "overcompensating!"

The fact is that Durante's hypothesis was not confirmed by her data.  Married women were not more likely to prefer Obama when they were ovulating.  Her thesis failed!  You can't then add something about the women "overcompensating."  After all, remember how women have the same drives as other female animals and those drives even affect their voting behavior!   Other female animals do not "overcompensate."


One day when I have more time I'm going to study that enormous field of literature about what silly stuff women might do when they ovulate*.  For decades  studies looked at what silly stuff women might do when they are premenstrual.  When that field was exhausted, evolutionary psychology arrived and a brand new time slot became available for these types of investigations.

I've read, for instance,  that ovulating women avoid calling their fathers lest they commit incest in that hazy state of sexiness caused by extreme estrogen poisoning.  Because one can get pregnant via phone signals?

No, silly goddess.  It's that Stone Age brain we presumably have which equates chats on the phone with having the father in the same room and perhaps accidentally available as a sex object!  That fathers have regularly been in the same rooms with their young, adult daughters for centuries doesn't matter for the basic EP theories.   Women have a father-avoidance hardwiring because the researchers argue that they do.

*And when do women ovulate?  The timing of ovulation is highly individual.  The 95% confidence interval for that timing ranges from day 8 to day 20, counting from the first day of the previous menstrual cycle.  That interval is so wide as to make any attempts to use it as the "time of ovulation" meaningless.  On the other hand, unless ovulation is actually measured in those studies the results are somewhat based on guesswork.