Hats Are Back! Staring At Women’s Breasts Lowers Math Scores!

Fedoras For Fellas

While watching an exquisite interpretation of the classic hose-in-the-face by one Curley “Babe” Howard on television, I inadvertently saw a commercial for the movie The Adjustment Bureau starring, among others, Matt “I’ve Just Realized War Is Wrong” Damon. The Adjustment Bureau

The story is an adaption of a readable, but almost certainly unwatchable, story by Philip “They’re Out To Get Us” Dick. The trailer looks asinine enough; however, that is not important. What is is that the bad guys, and even Damon himself, all wear hats.

I don’t mean ratty baseball caps, either. These are manly, grownup dressy head coverings, always appropriate in any situation. True, the images so far provided show that these men are unused to their hats, and that most of them look fresh-out-of-the-box. Fred Astaire knew that all clothes should never be worn in public unless they had been lived with, at least a little, in private. Wardrobe departments should heed this advice.

But given how many of our countrymen learn their life’s lessons from Hollywood movies, perhaps seeing famousosities on screen such as Damon wearing adults hats will induce our citizens to start donning better looking chapeaux. We can only hope.

Imagine The Area Under These Curves

New research suggests that news reports that begin with the words “new research suggests” (or the like) are almost always fundamentally flawed. So it is with the report that tells us “Ogling women makes them worse at math” printed in the Christian Science Monitor.

A group of researchers, led by one Sarah Gervais whose focus is “subtle prejudice“, decided that if they sat a man next to a woman about to take a math test, and if that man had secret orders to goggle at that woman’s breasts long enough for the woman to notice that her chestal projections were the object of lusty adoration by that man, then that woman would not score as well as a similar woman who lacked an admirer.

80085 Lo! When the researchers ran that study, they found—almost inexplicably—that the women stared at had slightly lower scores than women left alone. Thus, the researchers conclude that unrestrained male eyes are responsible for the stereotype “Girls are bad at math” and that the lower-scoring women were under the spell of a psychological phenomenon called the “stereotype threat.” If only we could, perhaps even chemically, change men so that they weren’t such bad boys, we could remove this threat and women would soon swell the ranks of professional mathematicians.

Except that is not all our indefatigable researchers discovered. They also found that the men tasked to hang their tongues out and take it all in scored worse than the men who had nothing but blank pages to stare at. What was on their minds? We can conclude that women’s breasts are responsible for the flagging test scores of young men in this country. Let’s get those things covered up or moved out of sight before any more damage is done!

And it gets worse. Our lab-coated friends were shocked to learn that the women who were ogled “were more likely than the non-ogled women to say they wanted to interact with their partners more.” They called this return of interest on the part of the women “self-defeating desire.” Sarah Gervais (no doubt furrowing her brows) speculated that these women “might have seen the flirtatious look as a sign he was attracted and returned that attraction.”

Sarah Gervais did not run an experiment in which women were asked to stare at men’s crotches, so we don’t yet know whether objectifying looks such as this will also negatively affect men’s test scores, or just lead to more, ahem, “interaction” between boys and girls.

I don’t know about you, but this is what it’s all about. People laboring for years in the lab just to learn that staring at a woman’s breasts distracts both the man and the woman. It’s science!


  1. How did this study ever get past the research ethics committee? Surely such induced behavior is a breach of some code of conduct?
    I would like to know whether any taxpayer money was involved in this really, really stupid research.
    Lastly, is there a way of determing how well endowed Sarah Gervais is and her SAT/GRE math scores? After all there is a big question of researcher bias that must be addressed – with perhaps further research!

  2. Matt:
    Thanks for the picture – but I cannot tell how big the research bias may be from that picture.
    On the other hand, one has to wonder at those ear rings!! Are we looking at a substitution effect or complementarity?

  3. The study appears to have completely ignored hair color as a confounding factor. Definitely flawed. I wonder if anyone was staring at Sarah when she conducted this study.

    I’m not big on psychology but I also gotta wonder what this quote really means: “Unfortunately, this cycle may persist if women continue to interact with the people who led them to underperform in the first place.”

    Oh! Almost forgot: “… commercial for the movie The Adjustment Bureau staring, among others, …”

    Someone has staring on the brain.

  4. Love these Sunday morning blogs. I was intending to comment about the hat situation, but now all I can think about is boobs.

    Talking about boobs, Miss Lilian had the biggest boobs in Georgia, Jimmy and Billy Carter.

  5. Although there are more boys at the very bottom and the very top (which could be due to different interests between male and female), women/girls currently perform as well in math as men/boys on average. Why? If you grew up here, you probably know better than I do. The society has always changed in many ways as we all know.

    No more “Girls are bad at math.”

    Gosh, is it necessary to know how Ms. Gervais looks? Are we trusting Christian Science Monitor to report her research accurately?

  6. JH:
    Are you saying researchers, particularly in psychology, never have personal agendas and those personal agendas do not bias their research results? But again, are you asking us to take this research seriously?

  7. Bernie,

    I am saying that I rather not judge her based on a paper or through a reporter’s eyes, in fact, I don’t want to criticize her at all. No, I don’t know if the authors have personal agendas. Whether to take the research seriously is up to you!

    Anyway, one of my few areas of expertise is errors-in-variables, would you say that I have personal agendas if I write papers on the topic repeatedly?

  8. Of course we should take serious research seriously. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this research is that.

    What I can’t tell is if Dr. Gervais’s study correctly used p-values. I suspect it did, since it was published in a serious journal.

  9. OMG:

    “After the assistants had undergone close to 30 hours of gaze-training apiece … ”

    You need 30 hours of training to stare at womens boobs??????

    This “study” is really from the Onion … isn’t it?

    Please tell me it is.


  10. I am astonished. I didn’t know women took math courses. I can’t recall a one in my math courses, but I went to an engineering school with few coeds so that may have had something to do with it. The few coeds was obviously due to a white male patriarchial plot to keep women out of engineering.

  11. For what it’s worth in the ninth grade I excelled in Algebra exactly thanks to women’s breasts. I sat next to Flo Baxter who looked like a young Gina lollobrigida (yeah this was a long time ago). She couldn’t pass an algebra test if she had the answer sheet but she could convince me to write large so she could lean over and copy my work. Did I mention she “leaned over”? So I really really wanted to be good at algebra. Sadly, some 55 years later if she even read this she would have no idea who I was, but I remember them,ah, I mean her!

  12. Isn’t this an example of incomplete research? The poor researcher, apparently not too familiar with the ins and outs [sorry], ie: the parameters and protocols associated with boob watching, has just barely scratched the surface of this topic, and like many researchers before her has drawn a premature conclusion.

    My extensive experience with the topic in question immediately noticed an absence of discussion re: configuration of the objects d’stare. Symmetry, shape, degree or lack thereof of perk, overall size, droop, protrudability, balance and tautness all have a bearing on the intensity of a potential stare. Absence of measured intensity skews the results. Since the instant research lacks any measurement of intensity, I say it is incomplete, and needs to be redone. Where does one volunteer?

  13. From personal experience I can confirm that the presence of an attractive member of the opposite sex can distract from studying math. Indeed many years later I can still recall the fetching form of the young lass who came to class freshly showered from some gym class to sit next to me (and the scent as well, a sandalwood hint to the hair and Ivory soap). I must also confess that if not for her presence I would have been lass inclined to attend the rather boring repeat of Calculus I was consigned to due to the unwillingness of administrators to render credit for my high school calculus course. Given that modern students are apparently even less inclined to attend class at all, I have to conclude that the study is incomplete without an adjustment made for students who attendance is improved due to the attraction of members of the opposite sex (or same sex if they are so inclined).

    As for hats, I am not so certain they will make a come-back. when I retired my last fedora 5 years ago it occurred to me that a hat was no longer as useful as it once was. In a world of climate control and sedentary occupations, the hat has gone from being an useful essential for most to merely a fashion accessory. (if you don’t believe that hats are useful, take an all day hike with a panama – you will wonder how you ever managed without a hat) The hat is an outdoor item and too much of modern life is spent indoors.

  14. Yes, well I am a hat person and always loved the advertising slogan here in the UK of some forty years ago: ‘Get ahead, get a hat’

    Otherwise I treat all studies involving young gentlemen ogling yound ladies and vice versa with the disdain they deserve. Do your own ogling: in this case an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory.

    Otherwise Mr. Briggs I prepared a V! craft of an alternative letter to your third version. Would you like me to post it on this thread, on the relevant one below, or possibly email you with it. Or just simply forget it? Pls advise.

    Kindest Regards

  15. Bernie,
    I think I just realized why you asked me one of the questions. To me, “Ogling women makes them worse at math” is different from “Girls are bad at math.” I don’t know if the paper has conclude that girls are bad at math, but I wanted to point out that “girls are bad at math” has become a myth.

    There are more women at veterinary schools already, and the female to male ratio is increasing. Thanks to you because you just gave the brilliant idea that this phenomenon must be due to the feminists’ efforts to keep men out of the vet schools.

  16. JH:
    At this point in time, I see little value in using gender as an important variable in explaining performance in math and even less in trying to improve math performance of individuals.

    Dr. Gervais’ study meets many of the limitations that Matt has already raised. It is a lousy research question and an equally lousy experimental design – based on what I have gleaned. I can see no way that the experiment could control for the myriad of factors that may compromise the design. My suspicion is that if you put attractive people together in close proximity they get distracted from what they are doing – whether its math, english, sorting mail, riveting steel plates, running lab equipment… That they become more distracted when overt signals are sent is hardly surprising or worthy of study. Is this really the best use of Dr. Gervais’ time, not to mention her grad assistants, student subjects and me. And yes, I am questioning the basic value of Dr. Gervais’ field of study.

  17. Morgan:
    Joe’s companion is distracting. I can feel my ability to do math, compoz gramaticle snetences, spel and typ rapidly eroding… Just kidding. But hells bells his outfit is making me feel queezy.


    In reading the Christian Science Monitor article we learn that THE MEN HAD TO BE TRAINED TO GAZE LONGER AT THE WOMEN THAN THEY NORMALLY DID! In other words, their [our] natural behavior was not vile enough. Here’s the key quote showing that the conclusions asserted by the ‘researcher’ result only AFTER the males involved are, literally, trained to ogle more lasciviously than they naturally inclined:

    “But although people have come to regard blatant sexual harassment as a problem, the consequences of subtle objectification are less well understood, Gervais said. She and her colleagues decided to investigate whether “sneaking a peek” at an opposite-sex workmate might affect that person’s job performance.

    “To do so, Gervais and her colleagues trained research assistants to do a quick up-and-down look at a person’s body and to train their gaze at the other person’s chest for a consistent period of a few seconds during conversations. It was harder than it sounds, Gervais said.

    “”For people that are doing this — even the men who are presumably doing this pretty frequently — actually having to slow down and do it is pretty hard,” Gervais said. It was also somewhat awkward, she added.”

  19. I’ve had a similar experience taking the GMAT once, long ago. There was a bit of mutual “gazing” & undoubtedly that impacted my score (which way is hard to say as I think I did well enough)…but was it the cute girl, or, the attire. A nicely fitting T-shirt emblazoned with: “Beer, its not just for breakfast anymore.”

    Clearly, such studies need to account for ALL the variables … and clearly the subject study didn’t account for beer (among other influences).

  20. At this point in time, I see little value in using gender as an important variable in explaining performance in math and even less in trying to improve math performance of individuals.


    I agree. But you know, I am still struggling to understand why teenage girls can be easily affected by media and societal gender stereotypes. My daughter asked one of her friends to take a high school automotive repair class with her last year, her friend said, “But the class is for boys.” Despite my encouragement, they didn’t take it. Which is unacceptable to me, but I lack the power of a tiger mom.

    Well, I am surprised to read that men’s scores were not affected by an objectifying glance from a woman though.

  21. JH,

    Women did not stare at the mens’ pertinents, just at their chests. If a woman stared at my chest my first thoughts would be that I missed a button or that I had a stain. It would not put me off my game. But if her eyes sailed off to the antipodes, I might spend more time calculating non-analytic equations.

  22. This just reinforces an invidious stereotype that only flat-chested girls and men sufficiently lacking in self-confidence as to not be caught ogling can succeed in math.

  23. JH:
    Based on surviving, barely, three teenages, trying to persuade a teenager (or anybody for that matter) to do anything that they decide not to do is a puzzle for the ages.

    Peer pressure impacts all of us – though certainly some are more susceptible to it than others especially when we lack self confidence and a genuine sense of self.

    My approach to this issue, (based on the theories of my mentor Chris Argyris) is (a) take a course in automechanics yourself and/or (b) find or better still help your daughter find, a young lady (sic) who has done or is doing the thing you would like your daughter to do and simply ask them what led them to their decision and what challenges they faced.

    Biological, physiological, neurological, psychological differences exist among us all. IMHO, the issue fundamentally is how to determine that whatever limits you feel exist are in fact real limits. Stand and Deliver, as I recall, is a really good movie that reinforces this point.

    Unfortunately academics who promote Women Studies, Black Studies, Hispanic Studies are caught in a bind largely of their own making that more or less ensures that the real issues are not not framed in a meaningful way. They endlessly harp upon prejudice with little focus on how individuals overcome such prejudice. Please note that I believe sexism and racism exist – but the solution starts and ends with my choices as to what to do when I get a chance to do something. “Pot banging” like that manifested in Dr Gervais’ study does little if any good.

  24. The author failed to mention the high correlation of grades to cup sizes: a woman with AAA to A cupsize would earn an A in Math since men would glance but not stare. The men too would earn A’s since they would not be interested in flat chests. And so it goes. A woman with a D cup would be stared at for a long period and hence get a D; the men too would be so befuddled that they would forget how to add.

  25. bernie says:
    13 February 2011 at 11:14 am

    I would like to know whether any taxpayer money was involved in this really, really stupid research.

    I think it might have been under the category of “stimulus funding”.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *