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The Coolidge Effect

Published: February 25, 2011 at 9:55 am
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In this week's Friday funny, journalist and author Eugene Byrne tells the story of the Coolidge Effect, a term used by biologists and psychologists to describe a particular behavioural phenomenon in mammals, and one named after a former US president

The story

The Coolidge Effect is a term used by biologists and psychologists for a behavioural phenomenon common to most species of mammal. The sexual activity of both males and females increases when they are introduced to a new and receptive partner.


For this term we have to thank the extremely unlikely figure of Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933), 30th President of the United States (1923-29), and his wife Grace (1879-1957).

President Coolidge and the First Lady, the story goes, were visiting a government-run experimental farm. Both were being shown around separately, and on passing the chicken run, Mrs Coolidge asked one of the staff how many times a day the rooster mounted the hens.

"Dozens of times," she was told.
"Please tell that to the president when he passes by here," she said.
The president turned up to see the chickens, and the hapless worker passed on Mrs Coolidge's message.
"Tell me," said the president, "does the rooster choose the same hen each time?"
"Oh no, a different one every time."
"Please tell that to Mrs Coolidge," said the president.

The truth

This one is probably apocryphal, or half-true. Grace Coolidge was a popular First Lady, a vivacious socialite where her husband was extremely serious and taciturn. This was partly cultivated; he once said "I think the American people want a solemn ass as a president and I think I will go along with them." On being told of his death, Dorothy Parker famous quipped "how could they tell?"


But Coolidge was no fool. He once got the better of Parker when she sat next to him at a dinner and told him she'd made a bet that she could get more than two words out of him.
His reply? "You lose."


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