Self-Deception about Fecundity in Women: Modeling the Burley Hypothesis

Philip H. Crowley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Concealed fecundity and extended female sexual receptivity have evolved in some primates, including humans, conferring advantages both within primarily monogamous relationships (e.g., benefits from paternity assurance) and from extrapair liaisons (e.g., better access to good genes). As humans evolved the intellectual capacity for decision-making, women became capable of altering their own fertility. In some circumstances, they may choose to ameliorate risks and responsibilities associated with pregnancy by reducing sexual motivation near the perceived most fecund time of their menstrual cycle. But three findings—a general inability of women to accurately recognize their own intervals of fecundity, high variability in ovulation timing, and unconscious transmission and reception of cues associated with fecundity—constitute a physiological and behavioral syndrome that can be considered self-deception. In this study, I develop a descriptive model to determine implications of the hypothesis that these features of female and male physiology and behavior have been shaped by natural selection in response to female decision-making. My analysis shows that consensus motivation for coitus between partners influences both the importance of variable ovulation date and the probability of conception, under the influence of self-deception. It also identifies priorities for future empirical work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-442
Number of pages22
JournalHuman Nature
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC part of Springer Nature.


  • Decision-making
  • Estrus
  • Hominid evolution
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Ovulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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