I found this posted in multiple news sites

The findings, to be published in the November edition of ‘Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin’, concluded that men find the propect [sic] of dating intelligent women intimidating.

--The Independent

Does the study have those conclusions? Is the study reputable/reliable?

  • 77
    What about man dating intelligent man, women dating intelligent women, and women dating intelligent men? If we're trying to see one viewpoint, it's worth checking all the other - otherwise we might get biased results; the answer might not be "men are(n't) intimidated by intelligent women), but "people are(n't) intimidated by intelligent partners". I am completely ignoring the fact that we haven't defined what "intelligent" means, how we measure it, and when someone becomes "intelligent"(and whether it's relative to other person or not). For me, the question is extremely vague. Jan 25, 2016 at 15:33
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    @MatthewRock it requires a larger and more expensive study. They might not have had the funds and they might have picked the "side" which they suspected had most signal...
    – Sklivvz
    Jan 25, 2016 at 15:52
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    Another problem with the study is that they're not looking at dating intelligent women, but at men dating women who are MORE intelligent than they are. Which is going to be a problem for anyone who's a little insecure, whether it's intelligence, athletic ability, salary, or whatever.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 25, 2016 at 19:09
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    Is your question only about the validity of that specific study? Or are you actually interested in the question of whether or not men might tend to be intimidated by more intelligent women? Jan 25, 2016 at 23:34
  • @user2338816 I'm interested in the accuracy of the media I'm linking to, since that's what's being shared on social media. The media in question points to a specific new study, so there's that. However other studies can offer additional insights, for example: if the study is supported by stronger evidence, then the media is inaccurate in claiming this is a new finding, and i'd like to know that. If previous studies contradict the study that is also interesting. In all cases, though, the claim is that this comes from a specific study and that's what the question is about.
    – Sklivvz
    Jan 25, 2016 at 23:48

2 Answers 2


This is the study the article mentions.

Does the study have those conclusions?

Not really. The experimental results could equally be explained by a simpler conclusion, that people are less likely to ask others out when they feel disappointed, deflated or embarrassed by something (in this case, the public revelation of a poor test result). The researchers acknowledge that such an explanation is potentially valid and supported by prior research on "affective experience", and acknowledge this as a limitation.

It's also just one study, on about 100 U.S. psychology undergraduates, with a systemic bias excluding more intelligent students. It therefore can't be generalized without being replicated on other populations.

Here's an example of the kind of target used by the study:

Seventy-three male undergraduates (Mage = 18.95) participated in a “Study of Interpersonal Attitudes” in exchange for psychology course credit.

Age, field of study and personal maturity are confounding factors on psychological behavior. As such, the news reporting by "The Independent" is incorrect and misleading.

Is the study reputable/reliable?

While the study is "serious science", is being peer-reviewed (or is in pre-print) and is quite interesting, the methodology has systematic bias against intelligent men, and the conclusions are not supported by the experiment set-up: the study merely shows that embarrassing or diminishing people in front of a potential date makes them feel a bit more antagonistic towards her. Likewise, it shows that flattering people in front of a potential date makes them feel more sympathetic and likely to ask them out. As reported, it does not measure anything else.

Systematic bias

The study in question consists in letting participants take a math test, and then be told that their result was average.

After a few minutes, the experimenter returned with the “graded” tests and announced their scores while handing back the tests. Participants always got 12/20 questions correct

At the end of the experiment, they were asked whether they believed the results and were discarded if they did not. This is a clear systematic bias because it excludes all candidates that are smart enough to expect a nearly perfect score and know that they can't possibly have an average result.

[P]articipants responded to the following questions in written form: “What do you think this experiment was about? Was there anything odd or suspicious about this experiment? If yes, what?” Responses were later coded for whether participants mentioned (a) that their partner was not real or part of the study or (b) thought their test score was fake. Participants who reported suspicion on one or more of these items were excluded from analyses.

In fact, it excluded 10% of the participants.

Participants and Procedure
Ninety male undergraduates participated in a “Study of Interpersonal Attitudes” in exchange for psychology course credit. Nine participants were excluded because they were suspicious of the confederate or did not believe the test feedback; the final sample consisted of 81 participants (Mage = 18.81).


First an experiment is set up where the fake results are given in a separate room from the potential date. In this case, performing worse than the date predicts more likelihood to ask the partner out or find them attractive.

Secondly another experiment is set up so that the fake results are given in front of the potential date. In this case, performing better than the date predicts more likelihood to ask the partner out or find them attractive.

I don't see how that supports that "men are threatened by intelligent women". It simply shows the obvious result that when someone's ego is boosted by good results they are more optimistic and when their ego is deflated they become timid.

The authors themselves admit to that, although they simply dismiss this as a "limitation".

Previous research suggests that when people interact with a potential partner in a live context (e.g., spatially near context), they rely primarily on their affective experience— positive or negative—to determine their attraction toward the target (Eastwick et al., 2014). In addition, research on SEM suggests that people experience negative feelings (e.g., jealousy) when they are outperformed in a self- relevant domain (Salovey & Rodin, 1984). Together, these two strands of research suggest that men who interacted with a female confederate in the near condition may have felt badly when they were outperformed in a self-relevant domain such as intelligence, and these feelings shaped their evaluations of the confederate. Although we did not measure feelings of jealousy in the present studies, we did assess self-rated masculinity, which produced mixed results.

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    Jan 26, 2016 at 10:52
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  • Removing those who can identify what is being tested is not systematic bias - indeed, it's quite the opposite, it's attempting to remove bias due to "demand characteristics", as subjects who figure out what is being tested are likely to react differently than they would if they didn't figure it out. And a finding need not be conclusive in order to be a legitimate finding. The study found what The Independent, etc, said. If they failed to note that "more study is required", that doesn't mean that the claim that the study found it is faulty.
    – Glen O
    Apr 20, 2018 at 10:20
  • I agree that it's not the best way to deal with the issue. But that fact, itself, doesn't invalidate the findings in any way. Not only is the removal of 10% of participants from one of the six studies not enough to suggest systematic bias, but leaving them IN the data would be systematic bias, since those participants knew the data was fake or the situation was fake, and thus their actions wouldn't be representative of those who didn't know this. But mostly, I'm going to point to a simple phrase: "peer reviewed". Experts in the field consider this to be valid.
    – Glen O
    Apr 20, 2018 at 13:56
  • @Sklivvz - so you're saying that, as a skeptic, you'll take your own opinion over a peer-reviewed study? While you shouldn't be taking their results as gospel without replication, there's nothing disreputable about the study on the standards used within the field. And not only did the study make clear that it was only a preliminary result, and thus needed further study and replication, but even The Independent made a point to say "While the authors behind the study caution that more experimentation may be needed to confirm the conclusion..."
    – Glen O
    Jul 9, 2018 at 16:16

Strictly speaking, yes, the study has that conclusion.

The study, as found here, states:

Focusing on men’s romantic evaluations in the present research, ...[snip]... in psychologically near situations (i.e., real, spatially near, face-to-face interactions), men distanced themselves and showed less interest in women who outsmarted them.

It then notes that

Preliminary evidence suggested that feelings of diminished masculinity accounted for men’s decreased attraction toward women who outperformed them in the live interaction context, although further research is needed to confirm the robustness of these findings.

Of course, the term "intimidated" does not strictly appear here; however, "show[ing] less interest" and having "feelings of diminished masculinity" can reasonably be interpreted as a sense of intimidation in the context of dating.

Tthe study is not definitive by any means. However, the description as given by the news sites is a reasonable one, and reasonably accurately describes the study and its findings as given by the authors and published in a peer-reviewed journal.

  • "Men" in the context of the conclusion means "university students". There is no attempt within the study to have a statistically valid sample of men.
    – Sklivvz
    Apr 20, 2018 at 16:01

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