Why beautiful women can impair the male brain
10:48 07 September 2009
Staring at a beautiful woman may seem somewhat harmless, but new research shows that the male brain doesn't function as well when presented with the female form.
Even just a few minutes in the company of an attractive woman drains the use of the male's cognitive resources when trying to impress her, so much so that there are little resources left for other tasks.
This means that men who flirt in the workplace may be less likely to get ahead and that males in mixed-sex schools could be hindered during exams.
Women, however, were not affected by chatting to a handsome man.
Scientists believe that this may be simply because men are programmed by evolution to think more about mating opportunities.
Psychologists at Radboud University in The Netherlands carried out the study after one of them was so determined to impress an attractive woman he had never met before, that he could not remember his address when she asked him where he lived.
Researchers speculated that it was as if he was so keen to make an impression he 'temporarily absorbed most of his cognitive resources.'
The team decided to enlarge their sample base and recruited 40 male heterosexual students.
Each one performed a standard memory test where they had to observe a stream of letters and say, as fast as possible, if each one was the same as the one before last.
The volunteers then spent seven minutes talking to male or female members of the research team before repeating the test.
The results showed men were slower and less accurate after trying to impress the women. In fact the more they fancied them, the worse their score.
When the task was repeated with a group of female volunteers, the results were different. Memory scores stayed the same, before and after chatting to a man or a woman.
In a report on their findings the researchers said: 'We conclude men's cognitive functioning may temporarily decline after an interaction with an attractive woman.'
Psychologist Dr George Fieldman, a member of the British Psychological Society, said the findings reflect the fact that men are programmed to think about ways to pass on their genes. He stated: "When a man meets a pretty woman, he is what we call 'reproductively focused'.
"But a woman also looks for signs of other attributes, such as wealth, youth and kindness. Just the look of the man would be unlikely to have the same effect."