Terence Blacker: Sex and the absurdity of male optimism

Notebook

Share

In these prim and disapproving times, the breaking news that men become stupider in the presence of women is unlikely to win much sympathy. There will be knowing, irritating female chuckles over breakfast tables across the country at the revelation that male cognitive resources are "depleted" by the exhausting business of trying to impress a woman. The fact that the depleted male is in a relationship makes not the slightest difference.

On the face of it, the conclusions of researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands do not reflect well on men. A 2009 study had already shown that male mental functioning declines sharply after five to seven minutes in the presence of an attractive stranger, but the new survey goes further.

A group of 71 men and women were asked to complete cognition tests, guided by an unseen monitor sending text messages. When the monitor's name was female, the performance of males' brains sagged significantly, while those of the women remained consistent.

The Dutch scientists have been studiously polite about their findings. That 2009 experiment had shown that males are "prone to engage in effortful and cognitively demanding attempts to impress an opposite-sex partner". The new study shows that, unlike women, men "perceive relatively neutral situations in sexualised terms".

You may have to be male to appreciate the accuracy of this conclusion. Cognitively speaking, we are pretty much always on the look-out. The mere mention of a woman's name, as the Dutch have confirmed, is enough for male brain cells to go into lockdown. The idea that somewhere a woman is watching us as we work will, in some dark part of the cranium, be suggesting romantic possibility and opportunity. However distantly, a sexual "Action Stations!" alert will be sounding.

It is regrettable, even slightly embarrassing, that men think this way, that their brains, depleted by hope, are unable to recognise the absurdity of their own optimism. But now this secret (if it ever was one) is out, how much more clearly we can see the way the world works.

Until recently, it was believed that, compared to single-sex schools, co-education disadvantaged girls because they were distracted by boys. Now it is clear that the theory was upside-down nonsense, and was probably dreamt up by a man while under the brain-addling influence of a woman.

Gove's ideas not so daft

One of the more intriguing aspects of Britain's public life is the slow transformation of Michael Gove into the Minister for Right-Thinking Conscience.

Some of his plans are not as daft as they may first appear. If the country has to have a royal family, it is not such a terrible idea to give it a new boat, provided the money can come from private sponsors.

And the plan to send a King James Bible to every school is also perfectly sensible, so long as it too is privately funded. More a celebration of language than any kind of religious statement, the King James Bible would express government's commitment to the importance of books – and, of course, to the schools and public libraries which house them.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high