The Joint Role of Estradiol and Opponent Gender



The current study advances a biosocial model of negotiation, in which the effects of estradiol and opponent gender on competitive behavior are examined. Sixty-four female participants engaged in a computer-mediated negotiation simulation and completed measures assessing psychological distance, negotiation goals, opponent perceptions, and self-presentation concerns. Results demonstrated that psychological distance, estradiol, and opponent gender interact to predict competitive and conciliatory negotiation behavior. This study carries substantial implications for conflict management theory and practice as it illustrates the joint influence of biological and social situational factors on negotiation behavior.

The goal of this research is to move the negotiation literature beyond just social contextual factors to examine negotiation behavior as a function of both biological and social factors, or what I refer to as a biosocial approach to negotiation. My central thesis is that neither biological nor social factors alone are adequate to predict negotiation behavior, but that they interact predictably to produce unique patterns of behavior. This thesis is consistent with Gottlieb’s (2007) metatheoretical model of probabilistic epigenesis, which emphasizes the reciprocal nature of the geneenvironment interaction on affecting behavior. Much research shows that environmental factors influence the expression of genes, ultimately affecting phenotypic (physical or behavioral) outcomes (see Rutter, 2007). Likewise, genetic factors predispose individuals to certain patterns of behavior as she or he engages in their environment. This approach begets a “nature through nurture” model (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000) in which situational factors constrain or facilitate the expression of biological factors. Employing this approach to study organizational phenomena entails tailoring the biological and social factors under examination to the exact nature of the topic of interest, and moreover, must be theoretically driven.

The Biosocial Approach in the Current Study

The evolutionary perspective proposes that time in the cycle should dictate women’s motivation to attract a desirable male partner while competing with other females. I propose that, during ovulation, women will attempt to attract male partners by engaging in cooperative, rather than competitive behavior. The use of cooperative as opposed to competitive tactics to foster interpersonal attraction is supported by Eagly’s (1987) social role theory. Social role theory posits that men and women occupy different roles in society as dictated by norms, expectations, and social sanctions. Individuals who deviate from their prescribed role are often subject to criticism and punishment from others (Bem & Lenney, 1976). Following this, logic dictates that if one’s goal is to attract another, it is best to behave in a gendercongruent manner. Feminine roles are generally described as warm, nurturing, and soft, while masculine roles are more strong, forceful, and assertive. Hence, behaving in a gender-congruent manner for a woman entails being cooperative as opposed to competitive, which I expect to occur in negotiations with male opponents. In contrast, women’s motivation to compete with other females should manifest in the form of aggressive negotiation behavior with female opponents. When reproductive pressures are minimal, such as during menstruation, behavior towards male and female opponents is expected to be more similar.


The hypotheses of the present study hinge on an important interaction between women’s estradiol levels and the gender of the negotiation opponent. Consistent with extant research (Van Kleef, De Dreu, & Manstead, 2004), I concentrate on both competitive intentions and actual offer behavior in a negotiation simulation. I propose that women should behave less competitively toward a male negotiation opponent, and more competitively toward a female negotiation opponent during ovulation, when estradiol levels are high. In contrast, women should behave equally competitively and cooperatively towards male and female negotiation opponents during menstruation, when estradiol levels are low. Competitive behavior is assessed using measures of negotiation intentions, minimum point goals for the negotiation, and actual offer behavior in a negotiation task, thereby generating three general hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1a: During ovulation, women will report less competitive intentions when negotiating with a male opponent and more competitive intentions when negotiating with a female opponent.

Hypothesis 1b: During menstruation, women will report equally competitive intentions when negotiating with a male or female opponent.

Hypothesis 2a: During ovulation, women will specify lower (less competitive) point goals when negotiating with a male opponent and higher (more competitive) point goals when negotiating with a female opponent.

Hypothesis 2b: During menstruation, point goals will be approximately equal when negotiating with a male or female opponent.

Hypothesis 3a: During ovulation, women will make higher (less competitive) offers to male opponents and lower (more competitive) offers to made to female opponents.

Hypothesis 3b: During menstruation, offer levels will be approximately equal for male and female opponents.

Overview of the Study

A unique aspect of this study is that estradiol levels were measured in addition to self-reported menstrual cycle dates. Participants were scheduled to participate during ovulation or menstruation and estradiol samples were collected upon arrival at the lab. This resulted in a 2 (opponent gender: male or female) x 2 (menstrual phase: ovulation or menstruation) design. After being presented with information regarding their negotiation opponent, participants completed measures designed to assess perceptions of the negotiation opponent, self-presentation concerns, psychological distance, anxiety, intentions, and goals for the upcoming negotiation. Participants then engaged in the computer-mediated negotiation task. This methodology allows for a clean yet comprehensive examination of individuals’ hormone levels, cognitions, attitudes, and behavior in negotiation situations.


Twenty-four hours before the experiment, participants were sent a reminder email that instructed them not to 1) consume alcohol 12 hours prior to the study, 2) eat a major meal or brush their teeth within one hour of study, and 3) chew gum, eat candy, or drink soda/juice within 20 minutes of the study (as suggested by Salimetrics, 2007). Upon arrival at the lab, participants were placed alone in a room to provide the saliva sample. Subsequently, the participant was asked to provide information about their three favorite hobbies and to have their picture taken, both for the purposes of reducing suspicion (this mirrors the information that participants would receive about their ostensible opponent). At this point, the experimenter started a computer program, which presented instructions regarding the negotiation task. After these instructions, a screen instructed the participant to notify the experimenter. Upon being notified, the experimenter provided the participant with information regarding their negotiation opponent (a list of hobbies and a picture displayed on the computer screen) and instructed the participant to continue. The computer program continued and asked participants to complete measures assessing perceptions of the opponent, self-presentation concerns, psychological distance, anxiety, and negotiation intentions and goals. After these questionnaires, the participant engaged in the negotiation task, provided demographic information and underwent a suspicion check.

Reference :

Mayer, A. D., Monroy, M. A., & Rosenblatt, J. S. (1990). Prolong estrogenprogesterone treatment of non-pregnant ovariectomized rats: Factors stimulating home-cage and maternal aggression and short-latency maternal behavior. Hormones and Behavior, 24, 342-364.

McGinn, K. L., & Croson, R. (Eds.) (2004). What do communication media mean for negotiators? A question of social awareness. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Dissertation Done by Laura Elizabeth Severance, University of Maryland






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