Scientists at the University of Buffalo, have found that men find smart women 'sexy', but only in theory. Brilliant.
A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that 'psychological distance' makes an intelligent woman more attractive.
It found that for all the claims by some heterosexual men that they would like a woman who is more intelligent, when confronted with one, men tend to be less attracted to a woman who outsmarted them.
'Psychological distance' is when individuals rely on abstracts to make a decision about an event which is distant, in time, space, or is hypothetical.
While previous studies of attraction have suggested that proximity makes someone more appealing, the Buffalo study found the reverse when the woman was smarter than the man (especially if he had claimed he was attracted to that quality).
650 participants took part in six studies conducted by Associate Professor Lora Park.
According to the paper:
When men expected to interact with a woman who was spatially distant (e.g., in another room), they expressed greater desire to interact with her when she outperformed versus under performed them [in intelligence]...
However, when men interacted with a real woman who was spatially near (e.g., in a face-to-face interaction), men showed less romantic interest and desire to interact with her when she outperformed versus under performed them.
Park suggested that men, when interacting with a woman who is smarter than them, can feel a 'momentary shift in their self-evaluation' (such as feeling emasculated), which leads them to feel less attracted to smarter woman.
The disconnect could be between how they feel when there is 'psychological distance' and how they feel in situations where 'social comparison' takes place.
Park told Spring:
There is a disconnect between what people appear to like in the abstract when someone is unknown and when that same person is with them in some immediate social context.
The studies also found that this disconnect between abstract and the reality of meeting a woman, only occurred when the 'domain', (in this case intelligence), mattered to the man. Park continued:
The domain matters.
If you don’t care about the domain, you might not be threatened.
Yet, if you care a lot about the domain, then you might prefer that quality in somebody who is distant, then feel threatened when that person gets close to you.
The six studies all focused on heterosexual male opinions of women, so it is for future research to discover if the same disconnect applies to women's attraction to men.
Similarly, it was not investigated whether the disconnect occurred between homosexuals.
Women preferring smarter male partners is hampering their career opportunities in science
A later study led by Park conducted in 2016, found that female preference for a male partner who was more intelligent than they were, was preventing the women from advancing in STEM industries (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, this second study found that women working in STEM fields would 'minimise their intelligence' when pursuing romantic goals.
It also found that straight women (who preferred a smarter man) were less likely to be interested in STEM careers when the goal to be romantically desirable was activated.
The same did not apply to men.