The research is assessed on a number of factors. Firstly, the research is evaluated on the literature cited, the methodology used and the results presented. From the critical analysis, it is evident that the results, which confirm the hypothesis, were vulnerable to social priming. According to the researchers, there is a positive correlation between psychological dominance and odor sexiness, as assessed by women in stable relationships during their fertile phase of the menstrual cycle. However, critical analysis of the methodology and the results reveals that these results were obtained because women in stable relationships had been primed. For this reason, it would be difficult to replicate the study in another environment, without involving women in stable relationships. In addition, the methodology used in the study raises several methodological flexibility issues, which create a big dent to the validity of the results.
The literature cited in the study indicates that the researchers suffered from citation bias. Citation bias occurs when researchers use literature which confirms the hypothesis tested in the study. As a result, no negative literature is cited.
In this study, the researchers go to great depths to support their hypothesis. The researchers give the impression that females seek dominant male qualities when choosing mating partners. They also cite literature which supports the idea that females can determine the genetic quality of males through sniffing their body odor. However, the researchers fail to discuss literature which contradicts their hypothesis. For example, the researchers do not discuss any literature which shows that perceived psychological dominance is actually a true measure of a man’s dominance in the society. Therefore, the researchers fail to give evidence to suggest that the perceived psychological dominance gives a true representation of a man’s dominance in the society.
While it might be true that male dominance in real-life corresponds to psychological dominance, the researchers do not cite literature to support this notion. As a result, the assumption in the study is that psychological dominance is a true indicator of a man’s dominance in the society – even though no conclusive research material is given to support this idea.
Conventionally, parameters which indicate a man’s dominance in the society include physique and a man’s claim to power, money and fame. Attractiveness also comes into play here. However, the research does not delve in to the conventional means which determine a man’s dominance in the society. In addition, the study gives a superficial analysis on the link between perceived dominance and attractiveness.
Although there are several studies, which indicate that perceived dominance correlates with attractiveness, the researchers in this case only cite literature which gives negative correlation. For example, the researchers cite studies done by Perret et al. (in 1998), and Swaddle & Reierson (2002) – studies which found no correlation between attractiveness and perceived dominance. However, this might not be entirely true because another study done by Neave et al. (in 2003) found a positive correlation between facial attractiveness and perceived dominance.
In reality, dominant-looking men score highly on attractiveness compared to submissive-looking men. However, the researchers do not cite literature which supports the correlation between facial dominance and psychological dominance. All what the researchers want to prove is the hypothesis that there is a positive correlation between psychological dominance and odor sexiness, without even establishing a link between psychological dominance and dominance in real life. Consequently, the researchers cite a lot of literature which supports the idea that there is a positive correlation between psychological dominance and odor sexiness – before establishing the link between psychological dominance and dominant appearance in real life.
In addition, the researchers fail to analyze the association between odor masculinity and perceived dominance. The researchers go ahead and state that there is no significant correlation between dominance and perceived odor masculinity. They also go ahead and cite a research done by Perret et al. ( in 1998), which suggests that dominance is stereotypically attributed to masculine faces. This happens despite the fact that the researchers themselves did not measure odor masculinity in their study. Although some studies indicate that women smell androstenone more positively around their ovulation, objective measurement of such a parameter was, unfortunately, not available.
Lastly, the researchers selectively cite literature that supports the notion that women seek genetically superior males in the short-term, while at the same time seeking males who would invest in their offspring in the long run. To augment this perspective, the researchers cite several materials which support mixed mating strategies in animals. According to this theory, dominant men have the tendency to reach high socio-economic status and participate in competitive activities associated with high testosterone levels. However, such characteristics reduce immunocompetence. In addition, such males have low parental investment in their offspring.
In response, females adopt mixed mating strategies, where they seek dominant males for a short-term or as an extra pair of sexual partners while seeking males willing to invest in their offspring as a long-term measure. The reason why the researchers go to great depths to explain the mixed mating theory and associated literature is because they want to support the idea that women in stable relationships prefer the scent of dominant males during the fertile phase of their relationships while single women simply lack this preference.
The methodology adopted in this study points out the possibility of methodological flexibility issues. For example, the researchers use a between subjects design where two different categories of women are used to test the same phenomena instead of using one group of women consistently throughout the study. In order to ensure internal validity, the researchers would have used a within subjects study design, which allows the consistent use of one group to research a hypothesis. This would, in turn, reduce individual variability and give credence to the study results. In addition, the use of the narcissist scale to test psychological dominance in males is not the best measure of dominance in real-life. Due to demand characteristics, the subjects could be tempted to give responses which make them appear to confirm to the societal expectations manly behavior. All these things point out that the methodology used in the study was not flexible enough to research the hypothesis in the correct manner.
The methodology used in this study was also prone to social priming. Firstly, the male subjects had to rate themselves on the narcissist scale thus giving some of the subjects an idea of what the researchers wanted to achieve from the study. Consequently, demand characteristics were inevitable.
In experimental research, demand characteristics arise when subjects unconsciously change their behavior so that it matches their interpretation of the purpose of the experiment. As a result, subjects give responses to beat the experiment and attain good scores in the evaluation.
In this study, the effect of demand characteristics on the experiment could not be ignored. For example, since the male subjects were required to give a response which shows their dominance, it is highly likely that some of them, if not all, took a role in the experiment. Consequently, some male subjects played the role of good-participant, the negative participant, the faithful participant and the apprehensive participant.
Conventionally, the good participant role involves the subject giving responses that confirms the hypothesis. In this case, therefore, good participants gave responses which assert their dominance. On the other hand, subjects who took negative participant role tried to discredit the credibility of the study. As a result, they gave responses which are not consistent with their true characters. Nevertheless, some of the subjects probably played the role of faithful participants. In this case, such subjects followed the instructions given by the researchers to the later. Lastly, some participants in the study could have taken the apprehensive participant role. In this study, such subjects thought that the researchers would evaluate their responses, thus they gave responses that would make them appear to be behave in socially desirable ways. However, it is important to point out that demand characteristics and participant role taking was possible for the male subjects, but not the female subjects.
Apart from the demand characteristics arising from the study, the research also has a weak design that is prone to many errors. The methodology adopted in this study follows the between subjects design. This means that the researchers studied three different groups. The first groups consisted of the male participants, while the second and third groups consisted of female participants. While the researchers might have had their reasons for using a between subject design, the results obtained from the study are questionable on a number of factors. For example, individual variability issues arising from the use of different female groups cannot be ignored. Since two different female groups were used to study the same phenomenon, it is highly likely that each of the groups had different attributes from the other. Another thing, which could also arise due to the use of two different groups, is social class differences, intelligence differences, age differences and differences in the emotive quotient of every participant. Although the researchers tried to reduce individual variability differences by using subjects from a similar age group (mean age of approximately 20 years), the other individual differences (such as social class and different emotive quotients) could prevent the researchers from obtaining genuine patterns and trends.
Again, the use of between subjects design raises issues about assignment bias. In the study, researchers used two categories of women; the first group consisted of 30 women in the follicular stage of their cycle while the second groups consisted of 35 women in the other phases of menstrual cycle.
As reported by the researchers, the two different groups of women participating in the study produced different results. One group, consisting of women in the follicular stage of their menstrual cycle, produced results which show a positive correlation between psychological dominance and odor sexiness. The other group, consisting of women in other stages of the menstrual cycle, on the other hand, produced results which do not show that correlation. Although the researchers believe that these differences arise because women in their fertile stage prefer the scents of men who score highly on the questionnaire-based scale, it is likely that the differences could be as a result of assignment bias. Therefore, the different results obtained from the two groups could not be ignored. It would have been better if one group of females was used consistently through the experiment. This would give the results more internal validity. However, the results as presented by the researchers at present lack internal validity due to the possibility that assignment bias influenced the results. In addition, the methodology used in the study limits the generalization of the results. For example, only young people were used in the study. There is no evidence to suggest that older groups were considered in this study. For this reason alone, it would be impossible to extrapolate the results of the study into the wider society. This is because the use of subjects from different groups could have produced different results. However, since only young people were used in the study, the study can only be extrapolated young people of a similar age group. In addition, the results of the study cannot be extrapolated to women using hormonal contraception because they did not form part of the original study.
Lastly, the research methodology does not provide evidence to suggest the environmental factors that could have influenced the study were considered. For example, although all the male participants were instructed to avoid the use of spicy foods, alcohol and scented cosmetics, there is no evidence to suggest that these instructions were strictly observed. Therefore, it is highly likely that some subjects contravened the instructions thus affecting the results of the study. Again, there is no evidence to suggest that both female groups were tested under the same conditions. As a result, there is a possibility that one group was tested in the morning, while the other was tested in the afternoon. Since mental concentration varies across the day, this could explain the differences obtained in the study.
The results of this research suggest that female subjects used in the study were prone to social priming. In psychological research, social priming is evident when subjects show amplified sensitivity due to previous experience. In most of the circumstances, social priming occurs even without conscious awareness. This is because it differs from reminiscing that utilizes direct recovery of memory. Social priming depends on implied memory whereas reminiscing depends on open memory.
The repetition of a perceptual, semantic, or conceptual stimulus prompts social priming. The effects of priming can be very dominant, and can sometimes last more than simple memory. This means that the unconscious effects of priming can be can last for long, even after the event prompting it has been long forgotten. A good case illustrating priming is a word completion test, where the subjects read a passage with the target word and then required to complete a word beginning with the first three letters of the target word. For example, subjects can be made to read through a passage with the word table. They would then be required to complete a word starting with the tab. The probability that many of the subjects would answer the word table is greater because they have been primed.
Turning back to the research under study, there is a huge possibility that women in stable relationships were primed. By asking them to rate the odor sexiness of the pads given to them, the women unconsciously used the body odor of their men as the point of reference. However, this is occurred unconsciously thus affecting their decision making. This indicates that positive social priming took place in the women in stable relationships. Since they are in stable relationships and probably meet their meet often, the body odor of their men acted as the first stimulus before taking part in the survey. Since the representation of odor is partially activated in their brains, encountering the second stimulus needed less activation in order for them to become aware of it. In short, their sensitivity to body odor was amplified due to the previous experience of being close to their partners thus knowing their body odors. As a result, the strong sensitivity was evident in the results of the study since they rated odor sexiness correctly.
This study is an example of an indirect memory test that assesses information without referring to the source of information directly. By asking the women to rate odor sexiness, the researchers wanted to elicit knowledge that was acquired incidentally. This is evident because the results show women in stable relationships were more sensitive to men’s body odor compared to single women who had little or novel experience of the stimuli.
Research has shown that priming affects decision making to a certain extent. For example, a research done by Bargh et al. (in 1996) showed that subjects primed with words related to old people began to walk slowly after the priming. The subjects were presented with words such as wrinkle, forgetful and Florida. The use these words caused the subjects who were primed to walk slowly after exiting the testing booth than subjects who were primed with neutral stimuli. The implication of these results priming has an unconscious effect on decision making; even though the words did not explicitly mention speed, the subjects unconsciously walked slowly after getting primed. In the same way, women in stable relationships were primed by the fact that they were close to their partners hence making them sensitive to the body odors of men, unlike single women who were not in stable relationships.
Gilovich, T., Griffin, D., & Kahneman, D. (2002). Heuristics and Biases. Cambridge :
Cambridge University Press.
Havlicek, J., Roberts, C., & Flegr, J. (2005). Women's preference for dominant male odour:
effects of menstrual cycle and relationship status. The Royal Society , 1 (3), 256-259.
Reis, H. T., & Judd, C. M. (2000). Handbook of Research Methods in Social and Personality
Psychology. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press .