It's more than a metaphor: the sound of an actual ticking clock can ignite a woman's desire for children -- that is, if she comes from a background in which having kids is already a priority, according to a small new study by researchers at Florida State University.
"The very subtle sound prime of a ticking clock changed the timing with which women sought to have children and the traits they sought in potential partners: Both central aspects of women's mating-related psychology," says Justin Moss of FSU.
Moss explained to Relaxnews via email how he and co-author Jon Manner conducted the two experiments, in which participants responded to questionnaires in the presence of either a ticking clock, a silent clock or no clock at all.
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"This allowed us to demonstrate that the effects were specific to the ticking of the clock," Moss told Relaxnews about his study that involved exclusively heterosexual undergraduate student participants between the ages of 18 and 22.
In the first experiment, they asked 18 men and 41 women at what age they would like to start their families, assessing them for socio-economic background factors that could influence their decisions.
In the next experiment, they probed 51 women and 23 men about whether the idea of having a family sooner could motivate them to lower their standards of what they were seeking in potential mates.
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Analysis of the data led the researchers to conclude that the ticking clock made no difference in men's responses, which did not surprise them, for men's reproductive lives are longer than those of women.
On the flipside, findings suggest that for those women from backgrounds in which childbearing at a young age was a strong priority, the symbolic presence of the ticking clock influenced women's thoughts on reproductive timing.
"The findings suggest that a woman's childhood years can interact with subtle environmental stimuli to affect her reproductive timing during adulthood," adds Maner.
The study was published in the journal Human Nature.