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Straight men get dumber just thinking women are nearby: study

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Guys may not admit it, but some really are struck dumb when women are near.

At least, that's what a study from Radboud University in the Netherlands would have us believe.

Researchers found that men to do worse on cognitive tasks just by thinking about interacting with a woman, Gizmodo reports.

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The study was published in November in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, but it's had a delayed impact online. (Perhaps all those nerdy bloggers were distracted by women in the vicinity.)

For the study, researchers recruited 71 male and female participants (all heterosexual) and had them complete a Stroop test as a baseline measure of their cognitive functioning.

Participants then completed a lip-reading test in front of a webcam, and were told that an observer of either the same or opposite sex was watching them. Afterwards, participants redid the Stroop test to determine changes in their cognitive state.

Sure enough, men performed worse on Stroop tasks after pseudo-interactions with female observers. Women, however, scored the same before and after the lip-reading exercise.

The findings are consistent with previous studies showing cognitive impairments in men after an interaction with the opposite sex, researchers noted.

The difference is that in this study, men didn't interact with women directly and had no idea whether she was hot or not.

"Together, these results suggest that an actual interaction is not a necessary prerequisite for the cognitive impairment effect to occur," the researchers concluded.

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That doesn't bode well for men doing business with female colleagues over a computer or by phone.

But the reason for the men's temporary brain freeze is unclear. The Dutch researchers theorized it could be due to men's instinctive search for mating opportunities. (But aren't women on the search too?) Another theory is that men feel constant social pressure to impress women, which strains their cognitive resources.

That might explain why Raj, the geeky astrophysicist on TV's Big Bang Theory, can't speak when a woman who isn't a family member is around (unless he self-medicates his selective mutism with alcohol).

If the findings are correct, the research sheds light on why Marilyn Monroe and bombshells of her ilk have made a habit of playing dumb: to make men suffering brain malfunction feel better.

Do studies like these confirm what men or women already know? Or is this line of research a misguided attempt to widen the gender divide?

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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