If you often find yourself stuck for words in the presence of women, don’t beat yourself up; we’ve all been there. But it turns out it’s not you, it’s science! Merely thinking about the presence of women makes men stupid.
A study from Radboud University in the Netherlands suggests that men start faltering and exhibit a decline in mental performance as soon as they anticipate interacting with women. Interestingly, though, women face no such problems.
To work that out, the researchers used something called a Stroop test — a psychological method to work out how well we process competing information. They carried out the tests both before and after a lip-reading exercise each participant performed via webcam. The participants couldn’t see anyone during the lip-reading test — but were asked to mouth words to a supposed observer of either the same or opposite sex who was watching then.
The result? Females scored the same before and after the lip-reading; men who thought they were being watched by a woman performed far worse. So, despite no direct interaction with a female, their cognitive ability dropped significantly.
They confirmed the results with another study. This time, participants were merely told they would be performing the same lip-reading exercise. The secret was that the lip-reading test never arrived. Regardless, male test scores plummeted at the mere anticipation of being observed by a female. Again, women displayed no such effects.
So what gives? It’s hard to say for sure. The researchers think that it could be explained by the fact that men are more strongly attuned to potential mating opportunities. Or it could be down to a more modern perceived social pressure for men to impress women during social interactions — which uses precious processing power.
Regardless of exactly why it happens, it’s clear that men have difficulty thinking clearly when women are involved. I don’t know how you’re going to manage to explain this to a girl next time you’re in a crowded bar, though. [Archives of Sexual Behavior via Scientific American]