This question is specifically about the male brain and its lack of cognition in the presence of a highly attractive female.

This is in contrast to regaining cognitive ability in the presence of an unattractive female. (both subjective of course)

For a better and more specific example, the character "Raj" Koothrappali, on the hit television show "The Big Bang Theory" is a model for the very real issue that some men do experience: please see description: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajesh_Koothrappali#Personality

Selective Mutism is along these lines but is a very generalized description of his/the issue.

Question include and not limited to are: What part of the brain is involved in this phenomenon, is it a stand alone issue or is it always accompanied by some other type of social anxiety, why do some men have it and others do not, is this some sort of protection or evolutionary byproduct and are there any studies specific to this issue ?

  • $\begingroup$ Very good question. Although the answer most likely is lack of practice approaching beautiful women $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah I think it's just feelings of intimidation / fear of failure sort of thing. But I'm not a psychologist. $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ In a pickup artist community, the technical term is something along the lines of "approach anxiety" - this refers to approaching a new attractive female. I'm sure those guys have written on the topic extensively :) $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Commented Jan 19, 2013 at 3:47
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    $\begingroup$ This question could be clarified somewhat. One might feel anxiety, intimidation, excitement, or potentially other things (though it sounds like anxiety is the state in question). There is literature regarding each state's associated neurocognitive changes. These moods/states could have differing effects on cognition/neuro-function, while still feeling phenomenologically like "locking up". Also, I disagree that there are specific (important) gender differences in this effect. "Freezing" in mice seems very related to what you're asking. $\endgroup$
    – jflournoy
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ I believe the phenomenon is observed, not scientifically studied. If you are interested, there is "seduction" reddit, where you can look up more info (very not science based) $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 15:04

2 Answers 2


I'm no expert, but I can take a stab at it.

What part of the brain is involved in this phenomenon

The amygdala becomes active and locks up other parts of the brain (thank you @KeeganKeplinger for helping me clarify). This is based on the fact that the amygdala is responsible for more responses than fight or flight, as I had previously thought. Recently I read a book by Missy Vineyard on the Alexander Technique, and this review of How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live sums up the relevant part I was looking for.

the four expressions of fear produced by the amygdala in the brain – attack, withdraw, freeze, and submit

is it a stand alone issue or is it always accompanied by some other type of social anxiety

This would be coupled with more facets of anxiety than just social. This report might also corroborate this. I know if I'm withdrawn, determined on fleeing or any other variety of emotional responses - my ability to speak, reason or do much of anything is fairly impaired.

Studies have also found that the amygdala modulates the fear response in humans. Fearful stimuli including fearful faces, fear-inducing images, and fear conditioned cues, have been found to activate amygdala in several brain imaging studies using positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging

why do some men have it and others do not, is this some sort of protection or evolutionary byproduct and are there any studies specific to this issue?

Same reason as some people are easier to fright, others are easier to fright, I'd imagine. Life differences, not just past but present as well. Lack of experience approaching women (or men), and I don't believe this is male-specific. I dated a gal a few years ago who was the shyest person I ever knew. Over the phone it was easy to talk with her and get her to talk, in person she froze for the longest time. Was both amusing and frustrating simultaneously.

If one believes that the amygdala is the cause, then it'd be a matter of evolutionary byproduct. Freezing is a defense that's more passive than running or fighting, we try and protect ourselves by locking up and becoming like a wall. That book I linked covers the amygdala portion of the brain and it's role in our evolutionary history, as well as it's role in our current lives, as well as select other parts. The author seems well-versed in neuroscience, not just the Alexander Technique.

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    $\begingroup$ I would argue that the amygdala is not what locks up, but that the amgydala becomes active and locks up other parts of the brain. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ Sure, just syntax difference (what locks up?) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ @KeeganKeplinger Edited and credited. I'm not sure why I didn't get to that sooner! $\endgroup$
    – LitheOhm
    Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 3:20

Perhaps you should think not only about 'parts of brain' but 'functions of the brain' - the feeling of sexual attraction will release multiple hormones throughout the whole brain, altering the functionality/balance for the same parts.

For example, there are observed increases in risk-taking behavior (change in loss aversion for decisionmaking) for men in the presence of attractive females - however, I'm not sure if explaining it by 'parts of brain locking up' describes reality, it seems more like a colloquial analogy instead.

  • $\begingroup$ fair enough, any other info would be helpful to steer people away from these analogies. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 7:34

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