Flirting: Tongue-Tied

Acting smooth drains the brain.

By Matthew Hutson, published September 1, 2009 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

I recently boarded an elevator with a cute woman wearing skimpy running shorts that had apparently been used to good effect. I promptly pressed the wrong button.

Apparently I'm a typical male. Research measured the effect of mixed-sex interactions on guys' thinking and found significant impairment. Johan Karremans and colleagues at Radboud University in the Netherlands asked people to chat with a stranger before taking a cognitive test. Talking to women handicapped men's performances, particularly if the guy had the hots for her. It didn't matter whether he was in a relationship.

Why the slump? The harder people said they tried to make a good impression, the dumber they got; carefully monitoring your comportment uses a lot of mental cycles. To that end, women who really hoped to impress their male chatmates incurred brainfarts too, but on average the ladies didn't suffer. According to Karremans, "Men are much more likely than women to regard an opposite-sex interaction in terms of a 'mating game.'" Even on an elevator.

On the Wrong Foot

Sometimes blondes make men dumb

  • "A woman I had a crush on walked over to where I was standing and said hello. I struck a sexy pose and put my elbow onto the bar... straight into her beer." —Richard, 31
  • "My dad can barely form a sentence around an attractive middle-aged woman. This leads to some very awkward hotel front desk interactions." —Glen, 30
  • "The first time my fiancé took me to a Mexican restaurant I licked salt from my margarita glass and he stopped talking, like when a computer crashes." —Danielle, 27