Fine-scale variation in lip and cheek colour according to the timing of ovulation in women

Abstract

Various animal species have evolved a sexual communication system with females displaying and males discriminating information about the timing of ovulation through sexual signals. More research is now investigating the potential ovulatory signalling function of female red skin colour in human and non-human primates. However, to date, it is still challenging to draft satisfying hypotheses about the evolution and function of the female red skin colour, due to methodological discrepancies between human and non-human primate studies. The present study used a within-individual design and objective methods to analyse the relationship between fine-scale variation in cheek and lip colour (luminance and redness) and the estimated day of ovulation in 15 cycling women. I found weak evidence that intra-cycle variation in lip luminance only may be less modulated by inter-individual variation, with lips getting slightly darker around ovulation. However, day to day variation in lip luminance is likely imperceptible, meaning that lip luminance may not act as an ovulatory signal in humans. This study adds to the growing research and discussion on the role and evolution of the female red skin colour of human and non-human primates in the context of sexual signalling and mate attraction.

Significance statement

In human and non-human primates, red skin and red ornaments are attractive for both sexes and often associated with mating and fertility. While female red skin colour can be informative about the reproductive status and thus influences mating strategies in some primate species, it is not clear if humans share with non-human primates a colourful trait of ovulation. This study shows a weak relationship between lip luminance only and the timing of ovulation. This study adds to the growing research and discussion on the role and evolution of the female red skin colour of human and non-human primates in the context of sexual signalling and mate attraction.

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Fig. 1
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Data availability

The data set generated and analysed during the current study is available in the supplementary material.

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Acknowledgements

I acknowledge the Human Research Ethics Committee of Kyoto University Primate Research Institute for permission to conduct my research. I would like to sincerely thank Christof Neumann for his insightful comments on the study and his valuable advice with statistical analyses. I am grateful to the two anonymous reviewers, the handling editor Michel Raymond, Julie Duboscq, Cécile Garcia, and Andrew MacIntosh for their comments on earlier versions of the manuscript, and to Keiko Mouri for her general support in the lab.

Funding

This work was supported by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (project 18H05810 JSPS).

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Correspondence to Lucie Rigaill.

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This study was approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute with the spirit of the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000 (KUPRI, project number 2017-13). All participants signed a written agreement concerning their participation in the study, confidentiality, and the use of their photographs for research purposes and illustrations. Participants received financial compensation in return for their participation (5,000 JPY ~ 45 USD).

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Rigaill, L. Fine-scale variation in lip and cheek colour according to the timing of ovulation in women. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 74, 71 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-020-02851-y

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Keywords

  • Red skin colour
  • Information content
  • Ovulation
  • Lips
  • Human
  • Primate