People become cognitively impaired in the presence of an attractive member of the opposite sex, research finds.
The drop in intelligence is particularly strong for men.
The more attractive the woman, the more men’s test scores plummeted, psychologists found.
It may be because men are so concerned about making a good impression that they have few mental resources left over for anything else.
The study involved people talking to members of the opposite sex before completing cognitive tests.
Both sexes performed worse on the tests when they were trying to make a good impression on the other person.
It made no difference whether or not they were already in a relationship or single.
However, men were more often struggling to make a good impression, so their cognitive powers weakened the most.
Impression management is no easy task for the human brain, as the authors explain:
“…leaving a favorable impression on an opposite-sex partner may not always be easy.
Impression management requires careful monitoring and modifying of one’s own behavior to optimize the overall impression an individual wants make on the interaction partner, making it an effortful and cognitively demanding endeavor.
Research by Vohs and colleagues (2005) suggests that impression management indeed generally requires relatively high levels of cognitive control.”
The study was inspired by an experience of one of the study’s authors:
“Some time ago, one of the male authors was chatting with a very attractive girl he had not met before.
While he was anxious to make a good impression, when she asked him where he lived, he suddenly could not remember his street address.
It seemed as if his impression management concerns had temporarily absorbed most of his cognitive resources.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (Karremans et al., 2009).