Studies: “Interacting with Women Can Impair Men’s Cognitive Functioning”

As discussed in this week’s podcast, some scholars believe that “Interacting with Women Can Impair Men’s Cognitive Functioning.” That is the title and theme of a Dutch study published in 2009. The study is:

interacting with women-450p

Interacting with Women Can Impair Men’s Cognitive Functioning,” Johan C. Karremans, Thijs Verwijmeren, Tila M. Pronk, and Meyke Reitsma, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 45, no. 4, 2009. (Thanks to Joan Baugh and Vicki Hollett for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, report:

“The present research tested the prediction that mixed-sex interactions may temporarily impair cognitive functioning. Two studies, in which participants interacted either with a same-sex or opposite-sex other, demonstrated that men’s (but not women’s) cognitive performance declined following a mixed-sex encounter. In line with our theoretical reasoning, this effect occurred more strongly to the extent that the opposite-sex other was perceived as more attractive (Study 1), and to the extent that participants reported higher levels of impression management motivation (Study 2). Implications for the general role of interpersonal processes in cognitive functioning, and some practical implications, are discussed.”

Here’s graphic detail from the study:

interacting with women DETAIL

A later study, by partially the same team, suggests the effect can happen even if a woman is only mentally (in the man’s mind, that is) — but not physically — present. That study is:


The Mere Anticipation of an Interaction with a Woman Can Impair Men’s Cognitive Performance,” Sanne Nauts, Martin Metzmacher, Thijs Verwijmeren, Vera Rommeswinkel, and Johan C. Karremans, Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 41, no. 4, 2012, pp. 1051-1056. The authors report:

“Recent research suggests that heterosexual men’s (but not heterosexual women’s) cognitive performance is impaired after an interaction with someone of the opposite sex (Karremans et al., 2009). These findings have been interpreted in terms of the cognitive costs of trying to make a good impression during the interaction. In everyday life, people frequently engage in pseudo-interactions with women (e.g., through the phone or the internet) or anticipate interacting with a woman later on. The goal of the present research was to investigate if men’s cognitive performance decreased in these types of situations, in which men have little to no opportunity to impress her and, moreover, have little to no information about the mate value of their interaction partner. Two studies demonstrated that men’s (but not women’s) cognitive performance declined if they were led to believe that they interacted with a woman via a computer (Study 1) or even if they merely anticipated an interaction with a woman (Study 2). Together, these results suggest that an actual interaction is not a necessary prerequisite for the cognitive impairment effect to occur. Moreover, these effects occur even if men do not get information about the woman’s attractiveness.”

Recent events, inspired by Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, have produced pictorial evidence that women can be distractingly sexy.