Sex Does Matter

Young women, be aware when you choose your financial advisor. A study shows that the mere anticipation of an interaction with a woman can impair a young man's cognitive performance.

When I started my first position as a physician, a male broker from Merrill Lynch approached me for the purpose of handling my expendable money. He was about my age, had a smooth voice and was impeccably dressed. Though he was pleasant to deal with, he certainly didn’t increase the value of my portfolio.

Of course, this could be due to a lot of reasons. A new study, however, introduces a cause few people would have guessed. The paper is entitled “The Mere Anticipation of an Interaction with a Woman Can Impair Men’s Cognitive Performance.” The research was performed by Sanne Nauts and colleagues at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and can be found online.

The investigators ran experiments with male and female university students. Initially, they measured the participant’s baseline ability to process competing information. It is known that when people are fatigued they do this more slowly.

The students were then asked to do another task, presumably having nothing to do with the first. They read words out loud in the presence of a webcam. The participants were told they would be watched via the device by a person with either a woman’s or man’s name. No photos or likeness of the person was provided and there was no interaction with the supposed individual.

During the second test, the males who thought a woman was watching did more poorly. There was no difference in the female performance whether women or men were reportedly observing.

During another session, the researchers had each student perform the initial baseline ability test again. It was then indicated to them that they would be engaging in the same word reading exercise they had previously. Fifty percent were told that a male would observe them and the other half were told that the person was female, though again this did not really happen. The students then completed another cognitive ability test.

The results, when tabulated, were identical to those previously. The women’s performance did not differ whether it was suggested that a male or female was watching. The males did significantly more poorly when they thought a woman was observing them. This suggests to the researchers that even expecting an opposite sex interaction in men diminished cognitive functioning.

The students who took part in the study were young. Therefore, the results are specific to this age group. The researchers postulated that it may be that young men are thinking about the opposite sex as potential mates and thereby feel under pressure, even at the thought of their presence. This could adversely affect their mental performance. Women, on the other hand, are not influenced, perhaps because their hormonal drive toward the opposite sex is not as acute.

Whatever the explanation, it may behoove young women looking for a financial advisor or consultant to seek out a female or perhaps even an older male for that task. This is because a young man in his prime might inadvertently be unable to provide his full mental capacity to a young female client’s investment portfolio (especially in her presence) and thereby unconsciously not serve her best interests.

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