Women Make Men Dumber?

“Talking to an attractive woman really can make a man lose his mind,” says The Telegraph. “Men get dumber just thinking women are nearby,” adds The Globe & Mail. And the more attractive she is, the dumber he gets.

Actually men may make women dumber, too. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Dutch researchers asked 71 straight male and female college students to perform a series of cognitive tests. Some were told they would be monitored by an unseen person. Others interacted with real live people.

When women were involved, seen or not, men’s performance dropped. But the presence of men had no effect on women’s functioning.

Why the difference? Lead researcher, Sanne Nauts, speculates that the men were preoccupied with how to impress the women – or how to make a good impression should they meet. And that distracted them from the task at hand.

While the researchers turned to evolutionary psychology to suggest that men get distracted because they pursue, while women wait and choose, I might note that while men are biologically more oriented toward pursuing sex (they have more testosterone, twice as much of their brain is devoted to sex, and their brain more quickly activates to pursue sex), in our culture men are also expected to take the lead. All this leaves them more distracted when given an opportunity to make that first move.

Interestingly, the study arose after one of the researchers was so struck by an attractive woman that he couldn’t remember his address when she asked where he lived. Apparently he was trying too hard to make a good impression.

But men may make women dumber, too. Once a woman is alerted to the fact that an attractive man might be interested in her, a woman may become flustered, distracted by the work of trying to look good.

Most people get distracted when they’re trying to look good. And that, unfortunately, can make us flub up. Sad but true: wanting to make a good impression can leave us looking like dimwits.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on March 26, 2012, in gender, men, psychology, sex, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Unfortunately, I would have to agree that this is true, for both men and women. Speaking from personal experience, it is very hard to concentrate when you realize that there is someone attractive watching your every move and monitoring what it is that you are doing. One becomes so focused on the fact that they are being watched, that they often forget what they should be doing, or, like with the address example, what they have known for most, if not all, of their lives. I think that part of this has to do with biology and also with survival skills. If, in prehistoric times, a mate was interested in a person, that person would need to be consciously aware of such an attraction. Thus, this would allow for procreation and a continuation of the species. I also think, however, that this has to do with societal norms and expectations. People are expected to be attractive, to get married, and to have children. So, if a woman were to realize that a man is attracted to her, or a man realizes that there is an attractive woman looking at him, or even merely in his presence, then no doubt they would lose all focus on what they should be doing, and instead focusing on their potential future and societal success. So, yes, one could argue that men make women dumber, and women make men dumber, but in all reality, I think that the opposite sex (or even simply the sex you are attracted to) simply heightens our attention span of a specific thing, rather than making us lose all consciousness.

    • Thanks.

      But: Never said the opposite sex makes us lose all consciousness, only that when we’re concerned with how we appear to them, the create a distraction. Read more carefully.

  2. I believe that men do become dumber while interacting with a beautiful woman. The media often portrays this, where the girl is out of the man’s league. So he starts acting strange insteard of slick, but in the end he becomes her hero and gets the girl, typical. So the question I am asking is, how do women and men stop from becoming dumber when they are trying to impress the opposite sex? Or should they not try to impress the opposite sex? Although I feel that this is an excuse, for both men and women to feel okay after having made a fool out of themselves, to blame it on the other person for being attractive, if people thought that they were out of their league they should not have tried to impress that person.

    • Well, just because someone is attractive doesn’t necessarily mean they’re out of your league. Women, in particular, tend to underestimate how attracted men are to them (men are the opposite, more likely overestimating the woman’s attraction). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shannon-kelley/shes-just-not-that-into-you_b_1151020.html

      It isn’t really about “blaming” the opposite sex for your dumbness, either. Anything in life that causes you to be distracted by how you look will hurt your performance. Whether you’re doing public speaking or being evaluated or anything else.

      The trick is to focus on the task at hand and stop thinking about yourself.

      In the case of a relationship, focus on them, and what will make them comfortable and feeling good about themselves, and not how you look. And ironically, that will make you look good.

  3. This article and the study supporting it are quite humorous. Now, I would have to agree that females presence around men does affect most of them. I also see this true for women as well. When someone of the opposite sex is around, and when one finds the other attractive, that could become very distracting. I thought there would be an equal decline in performance, but the study proves otherwise. I am not surprised because I see how attractiveness and the presence of a female alone can distract males.

  4. This article and the study supporting it are quite humorous. Now, I would have to agree that females presence around men does affect most of them. I also see this true for women as well. When someone of the opposite sex is around, and when one finds the other attractive, that could become very distracting. I thought there would be am equal decline in performance, but the study proves otherwise. I am not surprised because I see how attractiveness and the presence of a female alone can distract males.

  5. This article and the study supporting it are quite humorous. Now, I would have to agree that females presence around men does affect most of them. I also see this true for women as well. When someone of the opposite sex is around, and when one finds the other attractive, that could become very distracting. I thought there would be am equal decline in performance, but the study proves otherwise.

  6. “Women make men dumber”; is a true statement for almost all men. In my experience, when I talk to an attractive woman especially a stranger, it is really easy to become distracted because of her look. As the article claims that when an attractive female talks to a man, the man tries his best to make a good impression, but the harder he tries, the dumber he looks because when he puts all of the attention on the good impression, his behavior and reaction often look weird to other people. I think it may be the same for females, but when I asked some of my female friends, they said that they are less affected by a strange male’s outlook, and the article also proves that it is true.

  7. As a man I can honestly say, this is 100% accurate. It becomes a voice in the back of your head constantly telling you to approach anyone you find attractive. It’s not something that I have chosen, but it inevitably happens. Though it has led to a heightened ability to ignore my own distracting thoughts. I can see how it could be an even larger distraction for women. not only do they know that a man is interested and now paying attention to them, but they have no control whether or not action will be taken. A man has the ability to avoid the uncomfortable and awkward conversation to take place, whereas the women might not.

  8. Marcus Coleman

    This is hilarious! I always say that I am good with words until a beautiful girl comes around and then I find myself speechless

  9. Liliya Baranova

    I agree with this article brava use it is the truth. I know when I dress up and hang out with my guy friends, they all just stare at my legs or even flirt. I also sometimes stop focusing on school or work when there is a cute guy in my class and all I start doing and thinking about is what I should wear to impress him rather than what grade I want in that particular class or a raise….

  10. I’m a victim of this as well. Only I tend to try and look preoccupied when someone attractive comes by, that way I don’t look like a retard. But this does actually make a lot of sense; men seem to have small egos when attempting to impress a pretty woman. The more they try and impress someone the more they mess up what they are saying. It would only make sense because men also seem to have this problem in their sexual activity as well. If they have to prove themselves, they end up doing to complete opposite of what they wanted.

  11. yes i also feel that when im around pretty ladies i tend to focus on trying to make a good impression . if i were among a group of ladies and they asked me a question i will most likely not know what to say or i may stutter with my words a bit . its like your confidence is down and you cant really be yourself. and i also think its the same for females , i can tell when a female is being shy and holding back maybe because she is interested in a guy.

  12. Apparently Talya had someone quite attractive in the room there for a bit. ;)

  13. I actually agree with this topic considering that i have experienced it myself. I had many guy who come to me and try to hit on me but end up speechless. Sometimes they start with a normal conversation then it comes to the point were they just start studering. Dont get me wrong, it has happened to me a couple times as well. There are times were i meet an attractive guy and the minute i say hello to them and they say hi back my mind goes completely blank and i have no idea what to say. But i guess thats how our minds work. Our minds tell us that this girl is so beautiful or that guy is really sexy that we dont want to make fool out of ourselves. So thats what makes us try to hard to make a great first impression and it ends up making us not know what we are doing.

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