If everyone is stressed out, Scientific American seems to be saying, then women will have a mental advantage. That’s because stressed men are worse at learning:
Male and female participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: For three minutes, one group submerged a hand in ice-cold water, while the control subjects placed their hand in warm water. Thirty minutes later they attempted to memorize a list of words on which they were tested 24 hours later.
Men who exhibited a robust physiological response to the stress of the ice bath, as measured by levels of the hormone cortisol in their blood, could not recall as many words as men who were less fazed by the cold, men in the control group, or women in both groups. Women who had a minimal cortisol response to the ice water performed better than the control groups, although the difference was small. “Males appear to be more sensitive to stress- and cortisol-related impairments of learning and memory,” says Phillip R. Zoladz, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio Northern University.