The results may also have to do with social expectations. Our society may place more pressure on men to impress women during social interactions. Although this hypothesis remains speculative, previous research has shown that the more you care about making the right impression, the more your brain gets taxed. Such interactions require us to spend a great deal of mental energy imagining how others might interpret our words and actions. For example, psychologists Jennifer Richeson and Nicole Shelton found that Caucasian Americans who hold stronger racial prejudices face similar cognitive impairments after interacting with somebody who is African American. In these situations, individuals who hold strong prejudices must try hard to come across as not prejudiced. In a different study, Richeson and her colleagues found that less privileged students at elite universities experience similar cognitive impairments after being observed by their wealthier peers.
Overall, it seems clear that whenever we face situations where we’re particularly concerned about the impression that we’re making, we may literally have difficulty thinking clearly. In the case of men, thinking about interacting with a woman is enough to make their brains go a bit fuzzy.
Daisy Grewal received her PhD in social psychology from Yale University. She is a researcher at the Stanford School of Medicine, where she investigates how stereotypes affect the careers of women and minority scientists.
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