By Daisy Grewal (Scientific American) A 2009 study demonstrated that after a short interaction with an attractive woman, men experienced a decline in mental performance. A more recent study suggests that this cognitive impairment takes hold even when men simply anticipate interacting with a woman who they know very little about.
In one experiment, just telling a man he would be observed by a female was enough to hurt his psychological performance.
Sanne Nauts and her colleagues at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands ran two experiments using men and women university students as participants. They first collected a baseline measure of cognitive performance by having the students complete a Stroop test. Developed in 1935 by the psychologist John Ridley Stroop, the test is a common way of assessing our ability to process competing information.
Men who thought a woman was observing them ended up performing worse. This cognitive impairment occurred even though the men had not interacted with the female observer.
Women’s performance did not differ, regardless of whether they were expecting a man or woman to observe them. But men who had been told a woman would observe them ended up doing much worse on the second Stroop task. Thus, simply anticipating the opposite sex interaction was enough to interfere with men’s cognitive functioning.