How to not be intimidating to men

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The task led to a drop in men’s implicit self-esteem, as did news that their girlfriend outscored them on a social-intelligence test.“It’s more of a gut reaction of negativity, not a thought-out response,” Ratliff explains.Two women in their late 20s walk into a Manhattan bar.One, an energetic blonde named Jayne, is the cofounder of a financial technology start-up.The hopeful news is that men can feel great—even when a female partner outperforms them—if they view the relationship itself as an emotional resource.A study based at the University of Toronto used the familiar setup in which men (and women) are told that their real-life significant other scored higher on an intelligence test.When male volunteers were told that a hypothetical female classmate outscored them on a math or verbal test, the majority said they would prefer her as a romantic partner over a woman with a lower score. But Park and her colleagues—psychologist Paul Eastwick and Ariana Young, a doctoral student—pressed on.

But when his score was lower than hers, the study showed, he was likely to feel less attracted to her, less masculine himself, and less interested in getting her contact information or going on a date with her. Park is quick to clarify that previous research has shown that men are attracted to female intelligence; in fact, it’s one of the strongest predictors of romantic interest.

It’s when men have the sense of being outperformed, she says, that “things get tricky in real life.” The finding jibes with previous research, including a Columbia University speed-dating experiment in which single guys valued female smarts—but only up to a point.

If a woman they met seemed smarter or more ambitious than they believed themselves to be, they dialed down their romantic interest.

As for single guys, there’s a little-known benefit for those who genuinely prefer women who are smarter than they are.

Park’s latest research found that these men, once primed with romantic thoughts, actually perform better than they otherwise would on science and math tests.

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