BY JENNIFER ARBUES
Human beings are naturally driven to flirt with those to whom we’re attracted, whether we realize it or not. According to Rachelle M. Smith, an associate professor of psychology and the chair of social sciences at Husson University, it all comes down to procreation. In her book The Biology of Beauty: The Science Behind Human Attractiveness, Smith says that “the biological drive to reproduce and pass on our genes influences our behavior at the most fundamental levels.” But it isn’t only about continuing our line. According to Psychology Today, the reasons we flirt are varied, and they’re just as much driven by culture as they are by biology.
Trying to get a stranger to notice your interest in them can be a difficult thing to accomplish, though. In a world filled with attractive natural flirts like Ryan Gosling’s Jacob in Crazy, Stupid, Love, a lot of us find ourselves relating more with Steve Carrell’s awkward character Cal. But there are scientifically proven ways to get someone to take notice or to even fall in love. Here’s everything you need to know to be able to flirt like a pro.
Make your availability known
Psychologist Monica Moore, Ph.D., who works at Webster University in St. Louis, Miss., has spent a lot of time studying the way women flirt, and it’s more covert than you might imagine. According to Psychology Today, women in public settings send non-verbal cues to those that they’re interested in. Sometimes, they’re so subtle that Psychology Today says, “A man may think he’s making the first move because he is the one to literally move from wherever he is to the woman’s side, but usually he has been summoned.”
The more cues that are thrown out, the better the chances of scoring a mutual flirtation. Moore noted there are 52 behaviors that women use to get noticed, including glancing, primping, and licking her lips. Often times, the more shy and subtle behaviors women engage in are coupled with more overt shows of interest, like flirting with several people at once until one of them reciprocates at the same level of interest.
Approach from the right angle
Once the right non-verbal cues have been sent out and it’s time to actually introduce yourself, you’re going to have to take into consideration which direction you’re physically coming from. Martin Graff, head of research in psychology at the University of South Wales, referenced a 1975 study for Psychology Today titled, “Too close for comfort: Sex differences in response to invasion of personal space,” which notes that, while men dislike being approached from the front, women, on the other hand, have a problem with being approached from the side.
The preference stems from what Graff calls “invasion of personal space.” So, if you’re trying to approach a man, make sure you come from the side. And if you’re interested in a woman, it’s better to introduce yourself by approaching her head-on. It’s also important to present yourself in an approachable way, according to Graff. A smile and a flash of your eyebrows — which he says is an unconscious signal used to “engage in social contact” — can greatly improve your chances.
Be direct out of the gate
Subtle non-verbal cues are one thing, but, once you’ve actually reached the point of engaging in conversation with another person, subtlety should be thrown out the window. A 2009 study called “Women’s direct opening lines are perceived as most effective,” presented by Bucknell University’s department of psychology, tested which opening lines were most effective for both men and women. According to the study, the more direct an opening line was in indicating interest, the more successful it tended to be.
The reason behind it has to do with changing gender roles. Specifically, the study states, “Based on societal changes in women’s roles and changes in women’s attitudes toward dating behavior, women were expected to be likely to approach men.” Not only are women more likely now than ever to be the flirtation initiators, but they’re also more likely to reciprocate interest in someone if that someone is up front with them about it.
Know your audience
While being direct about your interest in another person is definitely a good place to start, figuring out exactly what your opening line should be is a little more complicated. In a study titled “Preference for opening lines: Comparing ratings by men and women,” Chris L. Kleinke, Frederick B. Meeker, and Richard A. Staneski presented groups of men and women with three types of opening lines: “cute-flippant, innocuous, and direct.”
All three are pretty easy to spot. Describing lines as cute-flippant is a nice way of referring to those awful pick-up lines like, “Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven?” Innocuous lines are the more harmless, open-ended types of questions like, “Are you here on business?” And the direct approach is exactly that — something like, “You’re gorgeous. Can I buy you a drink?”
The results of the study indicated that neither men nor women have much interest in cheesy one-liners. But where men prefer the direct approach, women tend to actually prefer the innocuous one, which the researchers attribute to sex role socialization. As the study puts it, “The tradition of men approaching women also suggests that women will choose opening lines for meeting men that are innocuous and nonthreatening.”
We’ve been led to believe that having a so-called “wingman” (or “wingwoman”) along on a social outing will increase our chances of landing a date (see Swingers, Roger Dodger, or Crazy, Stupid, Love.). But as much as we’d like to believe that having the support of our best friend as we navigate the murky waters of flirtation is the best course of action, sometimes it just isn’t.
During a university lecture, Jeffrey Hall, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas and author of the book The Five Flirting Styles, said that bringing in a wingman/woman doesn’t make it “any easier to identify flirting.” The reason? People are terrible at knowing when they’re being flirted with. Hall conducted two separate studies on flirting, which found that while, most of the time, people can tell if someone isn’t flirting with them, it’s rare (only 22 percent of the time for women) to recognize when they are.
Smile (but be sincere about it)
Having a great smile can do wonders for your chances of scoring a date. In 2013, University of Bern psychologists published a study titled “Something to smile about: The interrelationship between attractiveness and emotional expression,” which found that the perception of someone’s overall attractiveness was heavily influenced by their smile. “A happy facial expression could even compensate for relative unattractiveness,” the study read.
But it isn’t enough to just look happy. Psychology Today notes there are two kinds of smiles: the fake, forced smile and the genuine smile, also known as the Duchenne smile. Named after a 19th century French physician who studied facial expressions, the Duchenne smile involves using both voluntary and involuntary muscle contraction — it’s the smile that creates crow’s feet around your eyes.
In one study, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley analyzed the smiles of 141 college yearbook photos and found that those who displayed genuine smiles were actually happier in life and marriage up to 30 years later. So presenting genuine happiness can actually lead to relationship fulfillment.
Pay attention to eye contact
Eye contact can tell you a lot about how interested someone might be in you. While maintained eye contact might generally mean that your flirting tactics are a success, according to a 1997 study titled “Non-verbal behavior as courtship signals: the role of control and choice in selecting partners,” there’s more to it than that. The study, which videotaped 10-minute long interactions between men and women, found that a woman’s behavior within the first minute — whether it be positive or negative — had little to do with her actual interest in a man. It was only after the fourth minute that her “courtship-like behavior,” which included eye contact, meant that she was interested.
In another study — this one titled, “Looking and loving: The effects of mutual gaze on feelings of romantic love” — strangers were told to hold unbroken, direct eye contact with one another for two minutes. The result was that the participants reported feelings of “passionate love” for each other at the end of it. So you can actually make someone fall in love with you via eye contact… just try not to be creepy about it.
Use your hands
If you can make someone fall in love with you after two minutes of unbroken eye contact, then the idea that you could persuade someone to agree to a date just by touching them doesn’t seem that far-fetched. In 2004, Dr. Nicolas Guéguen of France’s University of Southern Brittany conducted three separate experiments related to touch in a courtship context.
A young man asked female strangers in different settings either to dance or to give him their phone number while simultaneously touching their forearm for one to two seconds. The results of the experiments indicated a significant increase in his chance of success whenever the man made physical contact with the woman during his request.
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind cultural norms. Guéguen indicates in his findings, “It is possible that in a non-contact culture, the effect of touch in a courtship relation would be perceived negatively by women, and male contact would then be associated with greater failure.”
Take up space
According to Pamela Regan, professor of psychology at California State University, in her book Close Relationships (via Time), men tend to be more successful at flirting when they engage in what are known as “space maximization” movements. Things like stretching, moving around a single location, or resting their arm on the chair next to them tend to be more noticed by surrounding women.
Rachelle M. Smith reiterates this idea in her book The Biology of Beauty: The Science behind Human Attractiveness, although she notes that space maximization movements are also related to the need to dominate other males. She says, “Interestingly, these same behaviors are used when trying to intimidate and express dominance over other males as well as to demonstrate interest and availability to a woman, likely complementary goals.” Perhaps the behaviors that women find attractive in men are tied to long-standing gender roles — the one who can (at first meeting, at least) show the greatest strength among a sea of available men is the one who’ll have the most success.
Dress the part
We’ve already established how nonverbal cues work to show interest in another person. But it doesn’t end at eye contact and hand gestures. What you’re wearing can have a significant effect on how attractive others perceive you to be. Noam Shpancer, professor of psychology at Otterbein College, noted in an article in Psychology Today how culturally the color red is often associated with “status, power, and virility.”
And according to a 2010 University of Rochester study called, “Red, rank, and romance in women viewing men,” the color red works for both men and women. Both sexes were shown photos of men and women either in front of a red background or a white background. Those on the red background were deemed to be more physically attractive than those on the white one. But while the men on red backgrounds were also considered to have a higher social and economic standing, their actual likability wasn’t affected at all. So, if you’re hoping to send out sexual vibes (and not much else), red is definitely the color to wear.
Buy them something warm
Going out for drinks at a bar (and buying one for someone you’re interested in) is rarely ever a bad idea, but you might actually have better luck getting a phone number or a second date if you head to a place like a coffee shop. The reason is that the temperature of a drink that someone is holding can directly affect how they perceive the people around them. Sounds crazy, but it’s true.
In 2008, the department of psychology at Yale conducted a study called “Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth,” which involved a group of college students who were asked to hold onto either a hot cup of coffee or a cold cup of coffee prior to rating another person’s personality. The study found that those who had held the hot coffee believed the other person to be more generous and caring than those who had held the cold coffee. Basically what it comes down to is if you buy someone something warm, you’ll seem pretty warm yourself.
Skip the small talk
If you’re looking to make a genuine, lasting connection with another person, small talk is the wrong way to go. According to a 1997 study by State University of New York psychologist Arthur Aron, people who engage in a more intimate line of questioning with one another tend to feel closer. Aron separated two groups of people into pairs, and then had them talk for 45 minutes. While half of the couples spent the time engaging in small talk, the other half were given a list of increasingly personal questions. By the end, those who had asked the deeper questions felt more connected to their partner than those who hadn’t.
Business Insider published the list of questions Aron gave his participants, which start off pretty easy — “When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?” — but wind up getting incredibly personal — “If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?” What’s most interesting about the study, though, is that six months after it ended, two of its participants had actually fallen in love.
Check your body language
Jeffrey Hall has done a lot of research on flirting. As part of his work for the book The Five Flirting Styles, he and fellow researcher Chong Xing conducted a study examining both verbal and non-verbal flirting styles, which involved 51 pairs of “opposite-sex heterosexual strangers” who were asked to interact with each other for 10 to 12 minutes. At the end of the study, Hall and Xing noted the couples engaged in a total of 36 different flirting behaviors.
Checking out the way another person’s body is positioned toward yours is an easy way to figure out if they’re interested. According to Hall’s study, examples of flirtatious body language also include playing with one’s hair, any sort of self-touching (like putting a hand on one’s face or over one’s mouth), and crossing or uncrossing legs. Other obvious ones to look out for? Moving closer to one another or exposing one’s chest, which Hall refers to as “breast presentation/protrusion.”
Make her laugh
Everyone appreciates a good sense of humor. But, as it turns out, a woman’s laughter has deeper significance than just the telling of a good joke. In a 1990 study called “The ritualization of laughter,” Karl Grammer and Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt discovered that, when in mixed sex company, women tend to laugh more frequently than men do. The reason has to do with ingrained social dominance.
According to the study, male sexual behavior is rooted in dominance, whereas female sexual behavior is often submissive. Grammer states, “Thus females, when they are together with males should show the higher degree of ritualization in laughter than males, because showing submissiveness is equal to solicitation when the male has a tendency to dominate the female.” The study also took into account same-sex couples, where laughter is more pronounced in male-male pairings because of the same sort of dominance. It concluded that women use laughter, particularly with men, to show their interest via social submission. So a good sense of humor really is that important, at least if you want to flirt successfully.