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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project