Skip to main content

The Clock Is Ticking

The Sound of a Ticking Clock Speeds Up Women’s Attitudes on Reproductive Timing

Abstract

The “biological clock” serves as a powerful metaphor that reflects the constraints posed by female reproductive biology. The biological clock refers to the progression of time from puberty to menopause, marking the period during which women can conceive children. Findings from two experiments suggest that priming the passage of time through the sound of a ticking clock influenced various aspects of women’s (but not men’s) reproductive timing. Moreover, consistent with recent research from the domain of life history theory, those effects depended on women’s childhood socioeconomic status (SES). The subtle sound of a ticking clock led low (but not high) SES women to reduce the age at which they sought to get married and have their first child (Study 1), as well as the priority they placed on the social status and long-term earning potential of potential romantic partners (Study 2). Findings suggest that early developmental sensitization processes can interact with subtle environmental stimuli to affect reproductive timing during adulthood.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Because previous LHT studies have focused on the role of stress, we considered the possibility that the ticking clock could have made people feel rushed, which could have created some sense of stress. To rule out this explanation for our findings, we collected data from an independent sample (50 women, 26 men) and showed that the ticking clock did not make people feel especially rushed. While they completed a short questionnaire, we subjected them to both the kitchen timer condition and a mild but explicit time-constraint condition (the experimenter asked the participant to complete the questionnaire quickly). We then asked participants to indicate how rushed they felt (1 = not rushed at all, 9 = extremely rushed). Participants did not report feeling rushed in the kitchen timer condition (M = 2.89, SD = 2.24) and, if anything, they felt less rushed than in the time constraint condition (M = 3.71, SD = 2.48; t 74 = −1.50, p = 0.14). Thus, it seems unlikely that the effects we observed were due to participants feeling rushed or stressed.

  2. 2.

    We performed two meta-analyses to assess the overall significance and effect sizes of the ticking clock prime for low SES males across the two studies. The first analyzed low SES men across Study 1 and using the $10 budget results from Study 2. The second analyzed low SES men across Study 1 and Study 2 using the $20 budget. The effect was significant across Study 1 and Study 2’s $10 budget (z = 1.77, p = 0.038), as well as across Study 1 and Study 2’s $20 budget (z = 2.15, p = 0.016). Weighting each study by its degrees of freedom, the studies yielded an effect size across Study 1 and the Study 2 $10 budget of pr 2 = 0.165 and across Study 1 and the Study 2 $20 budget of pr 2 = 0.198.

References

  1. Ackerman, J. M., Nocera, C. C., & Bargh, J. A. (2010). Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgments and decisions. Science, 328, 1712–1715.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Balcetis, E. & Dunning, D. (2010). Wishful seeing: More desired objects are seen as closer. Psychological Science, 21, 147152.

  3. Belsky, J., Schlomer, G. L., & Ellis, B. J. (2012). Beyond cumulative risk: Distinguishing harshness and unpredictability as determinants of parenting and early life history strategy. Developmental Psychology, 48, 662–673.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Belsky, J., Steinberg, L., & Draper, P. (1991). Childhood experience, interpersonal development, and reproductive strategy: An evolutionary theory of socialization. Child Development, 62, 647–670.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Del Giudice, M., Ellis, B. J., & Shirtcliff, E. A. (2011). The Adaptive Calibration Model of stress responsivity. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35, 1562–1592.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Ellis, B. J. (2004). Timing of pubertal maturation in girls: An integrated life history approach. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 920–958.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Fabian, D., & Flatt, T. (2012). Life history evolution. Nature Education Knowledge, 3(10), 24.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Fay, A. J., & Maner, J. K. (2012). Warmth, spatial proximity, and social attachment: The embodied perception of a social metaphor. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(6), 1369–1372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Griskevicius, V., Ackerman, J. A., Cantu, S. M., Delton, A. W., Robertson, T. E., Simpson, J. A., & Tybur, J. M. (2013). When the economy falters, do people spend or save? Responses to resource scarcity depend on childhood environment. Psychological Science, 24, 197–205.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Griskevicius, V., Delton, A. W., Robertson, T. E., & Tybur, J. M. (2011a). The environmental contingency of life history strategies: Influences of mortality and socioeconomic status on reproductive timing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 241–254.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J. M., Delton, A. W., & Robertson, T. E. (2011b). The influence of mortality and socioeconomic status on risk and delayed rewards: A life history theory approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 1015–1026.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Haselton, M. G., & Gangestad, S. W. (2006). Conditional expression of female desires and male mate retention efforts across the human ovulatory cycle. Hormones and Behavior, 49, 509–518.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Kaplan, H. S., & Gangestad, S. W. (2005). Life history theory and evolutionary psychology. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), Handbook of evolutionary psychology (pp. 68–95). New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Kaschak, M. P., & Maner, J. K. (2009). Embodiment, evolution, and social cognition: An integrative framework. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 1236–1244.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Lee, S. W. S., & Schwarz, N. (2012). Bidirectionality, mediation, and moderation of metaphorical effects: The embodiment of social suspicion and fishy smells. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 737–749.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Li, N. P., & Kenrick, D. T. (2006). Sex similarities and differences in preferences for short term mates: What, whether and why. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 468–489.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Li, N. P., Kenrick, D. T., Bailey, J. M., & Linsenmeier, J. A. (2002). The necessities and luxuries of mate preferences: Testing the tradeoffs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 947–955.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Mucignat-Caretta, C., Caretta, A., & Cavaggioni, A. (1995). Pheromonally accelerated puberty is enhanced by previous experience of the same stimulus. Physiology and Behavior, 57, 901–903.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Schröder, T., & Thagard, P. (2013). The affective meanings of automatic social behaviors: Three mechanisms that explain priming. Psychological Review, 120, 255–280.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Simpson, J. A., Griskevicius, V., Kuo, S. I.-C., Sung, S., & Collins, W. A. (2012). Evolution, stress, and sensitive periods: The influence of unpredictability in early versus late childhood on sex and risky behavior. Developmental Psychology, 48, 674–686.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth. Science, 322, 606–607.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

JHM would like to thank his advisor, JKM, for his guidance and assistance on this project and manuscript. He would also like to thank his family for their love and support as he continues his education. Finally, he would like to thank his research assistants for their hard work on this project.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Justin H. Moss.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Moss, J.H., Maner, J.K. The Clock Is Ticking. Hum Nat 25, 328–341 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-014-9210-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Life History Theory
  • Reproductive timing
  • Mate preferences
  • Sex differences
  • Priming
  • Evolutionary psychology