What explains David Cameron's oops! moment?
How on earth did the prime minister leave his eight-year-old daughter in the pub? Actually, it might be an easier mistake to make than you think...
As you may have heard, the prime minister suffered an oops! (and no doubt panicky) moment of major proportions recently when he left his eight-year-old daughter behind in a pub.
Nancy wandered off to the toilets at the Plough Inn in Buckinghamshire and neither David Cameron nor his wife Samantha, travelling in separate cars, realised she wasn't with them until they arrived home. As it turned out, their daughter was safe and well and being looked after by staff at the pub.
Let's face it, Dave isn't the first dad to suffer a brain freeze when out with the kids. Not a month goes by without some harassed father making the papers for leaving a baby on a train or a toddler in the toyshop.
And it's not just dads. Some men walk away from cash machines leaving a wad of notes sticking out of the slot. Others leave home with a loyal dog in tow and come back with just its lead.
So what causes these male oops! moments? Is it age, stress or are men just a bit rubbish sometimes? We take a look at the evidence.
Dave's not alone
In case the PM is reading this, let's first reassure him that he's far from alone in the male 'doh!' stakes. A quick trawl of press cuttings finds a host of stories about children left in shops, supermarket trolleys and at train stations by dozy dads. An up-and-coming British tennis star missed the junior French Open last year because his dad forgot to enter him for the tournament.
And even when they're not forgetting the kids, fatherhood can turn men's minds to mush. Last year an American man loaded his two kids into the car, packed away the shopping and drove off with $5,000 in cash on the roof.
Can men be too relaxed?
So we all make mistakes. The problem for the PM is that the incident rather adds to his reputation as being too 'chillaxed' for his own good.
One of Cameron's advisors recently admitted that the PM spent "a crazy, scary amount of time playing Fruit Ninja on his iPad," which didn't go down too well with those struggling through the longest economic downturn in recent history. Shouldn't Dave be, well, sorting out the mess?
Pub-gate and countless other examples also add to the idea that, when it comes to parenting, men can be a bit too relaxed for their own good. While mothers fret about everything, dads tend to take a far more relaxed attitude to the wellbeing of their darling children.
A study by psychologists at the University of Kent, published in 2010, seems to bear that out. It found that fathers are far more relaxed than mothers about their kids' drinking, with 17% of men happy with their child drinking at home from the age of 10 compared to just 6% of women. Men were also more relaxed when it came to drug taking, with 38% seeing it as part of growing up, compared to 24% of mothers.
So perhaps men suffer these oops! moments with their kids simply because they take a more liberal, let-them-get-on-with-it attitude. And Nancy Cameron was fine, so what's the harm?
Stress makes us forgetful
But it's also true that modern life can make men forgetful, perhaps even to the point of driving off one kiddie down.
Despite his 'chillaxed' reputation, the PM must be a little stressed. He's got three kids for a start, as well as a pesky old country to run. According to experts, all that stress might explain his oversight in the boozer.
For example, research from Yale Medical School found that stressful situations activated an enzyme in the brain that impairs short-term memory. The researchers said the stress didn't have to be traumatic - you just have to feel "out of control".
"This kind of memory, the ability to concentrate, seems to be impaired when exposed to mild stresses," said lead researcher Dr Amy Arnsten.
The researchers say that this might have been an advantage when humans met danger at every turn, but may be less useful when your stress is largely the result of an influx of email.
And when you're in the pub enjoying a steak-and-ale pie, the inability to concentrate on counting kids clearly isn't an advantage. In a nutshell, the stress of dealing with the fallout from, say, the pasty tax, may have caused the PM to momentarily misplace a child.
Multitasking doesn't work
Men are also expected to do a lot of multitasking these days - prime ministers, one assumes, even more than the rest of us - and quite a few experts think we're not very good at it.
"When people attempt to multitask, what they are really doing is switching rapidly back and forth between tasks, what I call 'switchtasking'", says Dave Crenshaw, a productivity coach and author of The Myth of Multitasking. "These switches cause people to lose time, and be incredibly less productive."
They also make us dazed and confused. The conclusion of a study from the University of London was that, "workers distracted by email and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in a marijuana smoker."
In other words, if the PM was trying to count his kids into the car, while at the same time taking a call from Boris Johnson and reading an email from Barack Obama, something had to give. Unfortunately for Nancy, in this case it was her.
Why do men have oops! moments?
None of this is just the concern of busy prime ministers, of course. Many men are stressed by excessive work and confused by the multitasking skills that are supposed to help us get on top of it all. Add to that a more relaxed, devil-may-care attitude to parenting, and perhaps to life in general, and it's easy to see why some of us occasionally leave the kids in the pub or a wad of £20 notes blowing in the breeze.
Though of course sometimes - just now and then - it's because we can be just a teeny bit rubbish.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
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