A new study finds that men have a hard time concentrating around women… It’s shocking, I know… Who would have every guessed that this was possible?
In a test performed by Johan Karremans and colleagues, they have shown that men are left cognitively impaired during and after situations when they spend time around women, an effect that seems to be related to the diversion of cognitive resources towards the challenge of creating the best possible impression.
Forty male heterosexual undergrads performed a memory test, called the 2-back task, both before and after chatting for seven minutes with a female or male experimenter. The task required them to observe a stream of letters and indicate as fast as possible for each one whether it was the same as the letter that appeared two letters ago. Participants who conversed with a female experimenter showed a deterioration in performance. By contrast, participants who chatted with a male experimenter showed no deterioration. For the participants who chatted with a female, their impairment increased in line with how attractive they perceived the experimenter to be. Participants in a relationship were impaired by talking to a woman just as much as participants who were single.
A second experiment was similar to the first, except female students were also tested. Also, a more demanding task was used (a version of the Simon task, which involved categorising a word if it was printed in white or indicating its colour if it appeared in blue or green). Between tests, participants chatted with another participant, either male or female.
Once again, male participants showed a decline in cognitive performance after chatting for a few minutes with a female. They were slower by an average of about 40ms – a small, but statistically significant impairment.