The next time a man tells you that he’s attracted to intelligent women, you might want to ask him whether he’s ever actually dated one.
No, that’s not a slight on the female of the species. Instead, it’s the findings of a new study, which suggests that men state their theoretical preference for intelligent women only to then change their minds in the cold light of the dating arena.
The study, which will be published in the November edition of ‘Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin’ but is already available to read online, concluded that rather than find smarter women attractive, men are actively intimidated by the prospect of an intelligent partner.
Psychologists at the University of Buffalo, California Lutheran University and University of Texas, Austin, broke their research into two parts. First, 105 men were asked to rank the merits of women who had out- or under-performed them in an intelligence test as a prospective romantic partner.
They found that the men were more likely to declare their attraction to women who had performed better than them. “Men formed favorable impressions and showed greater interest in women who displayed more (versus less) intelligence than themselves,” the study authors wrote.
However, the trend was reversed in the second part of the test, where the men were given an intelligence test and then informed that they were about to actually meet a woman who had either performed better or worse than them on the same test.
In this scenario, the researchers noted that the men who had been told they were about to meet a more intelligent woman “distanced themselves more from her, tended to rate her as less attractive, and showed less desire to exchange contact information or plan a date with her.”
The key, according to the study, is that in the second scenario, the men felt threatened by the physical presence of a clever woman: “Feelings of diminished masculinity accounted for men’s decreased attraction toward women who outperformed them in the live interaction context.”
The research contradicts the common belief that men seek out intelligence in prospective partners because it means they will have clever offspring.
“The main thing that men are looking for is intelligence,” Professor David Bainbridge, of the University of Cambridge, told the Hay Festival earlier this year. “Surveys have shown time and time again that this is the first thing that men look for.
“It shows that she will be able to look after his children and that her parents were probably intelligent as well, suggesting that she was raised well.”