Motivated to impress an impressive woman, some men rise to the occasion.I was about to approach the squat rack when I felt it in my gut: gym intimidation. And as someone with a little brother growing up, I have a built-in fiesty disposition. I threw my shoulders back approached the rack with confidence. I KNEW my weights, I KNEW my technique, I KNEW where I was going in the gym and how to do what needed to get done.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.

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“Without realizing it, men reframe ‘Wow, my partner is successful’ as ‘Wow, my partner is successful .’” The blow to the ego, however self-inflicted, appears to hurt how men see their relationship.

In Ratliff’s study, they distanced themselves from their partner and were less optimistic about their future together.

When the man’s score was higher than the woman’s, he was more likely to put his seat nearer to her and express romantic interest.

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.

“People are not very good at introspecting and reporting why they do what they do,” Park says.

If she had asked any of her subjects why he wasn’t romantically interested in the woman who outscored him, chances are he would come up with reasons unrelated to her smarts.This time, they had to rate their degree of closeness to their partner beforehand, as well as afterward, which made them reflect on the warmth and affection they felt for each other.For those who were close to their lovers, the news of that person’s superior test results appeared to actually activate feelings of connectedness and an affirmation of the relationship’s value. “The more the male partner can focus his thoughts on the ‘team’ aspect of the relationship, the better he copes,” says Rebecca Pinkus, a psychologist at Western Sydney University who researches strategies that couples use to overcome divisive comparison.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.They asked their subjects to take a math test, then manipulated each man’s result to make it higher or lower than that of an actual woman sitting next to him.A better strategy than propping up male self-esteem by hiding her own intellect, Park suggests, is finding a man who’s supportive of a prospective mate’s intelligence and ambition from the start.