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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.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.He might reframe the woman’s intelligence—a trait he claimed to value dearly—in an unflattering light, casting her as cold, pretentious, or a cookie-cutter know-it-all, when, in fact, his ego was threatened.If any of us could access our unconscious, we’d see that we pick partners and stay with them based not on lofty, abstract ideals, but on how they make us feel.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.

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(Female self-esteem, meanwhile, was unaffected by a partner’s success.) Not every fellow has the confidence of actor George Clooney, who calls his wife Amal, an accomplished international lawyer, his intellectual superior and himself her “arm candy.” Men often feel they need to defend their status as competent and competitive, Park explains, and being outperformed is a threat.

He might fear that a woman who outperforms him is out of his league, or that she’ll leave him for a sharper go-getter.

If a man reacts negatively to the perceived superiority of a woman, he’s probably unaware of it.

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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