People flirt for six different reasons.
In a 2004 review of the literature on flirting, Northern Illinois University professor David Dryden Henningsen identified six different motivations for the behavior:
• Sex: trying to get in bed
• Fun: treating it like a sport
• Exploring: trying to see what it would be like to be in a relationship
• Relational: trying to increase the intimacy of a relationship
• Esteem: increasing one’s own self esteem
• Instrumental: trying to get something from the other person
In that study, Henningsen asked 101 female and 99 male students to write out a hypothetical flirty conversation between a man and a woman, then identify the motivations for the things they said.
The behaviors broke down along gender norms: Men were significantly more likely to have a sexual motivation, while women tended to have a relational one.
Couples need to flirt, too.
Like Tinder, cats, and dying alone, flirting is usually associated with single people.
But couples need to know how to flirt, too.
After studying 164 married people for a 2012 study, University of Kentucky researcher Brandi Frisby noted that most of them flirted — by playing “footsies” or whispering in their partner’s ear, for example — as a means of maintaining and emphasizing intimacy. Oftentimes, she wrote in her paper, married couples flirted to “create a private world with the spouse.”
People feel connected when they get past the small talk.
You probably already know that asking questions of the person you fancy is a good idea.
But it’s all about the kind of questions you ask.
According to a widely cited 1997 study by State University of New York psychologist Arthur Aron, people feel more closely bonded when they ask each other intimate questions, as in “What roles do love and affection play in your life?” and “What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?”
Six months later, two of the participants (a tiny fraction of the original study group) even found themselves in love — an intriguing result, though not a significant one.
Men overestimate how interested women are.
Evidence from multiple studies supports the idea that, among heterosexual people, men tend to over perceive sexual interest from women, while women tend to under perceive sexual interest from men.
A 2014 study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology surveyed hundreds of undergraduate students from Norway, which according to the UN is one of the world’s most “gender egalitarian nations.”
Researchers found more women had been subject to instances where men over-perceive sexual interest from them than men. Young, single, and sexuality-fluid participants also experienced being over-sexualized more often.
The most attractive characteristics depend on gender.
According to a 2011 study led by University of British Columbia psychologist Jessica Tracy, heterosexual men and women diverge greatly in the facial expressions they fancy.
After showing 1,041 people images of different facial expressions, Tracy found that:
• Happiness was the most attractive female expression, but one of the least attractive for men.
• Pride was the most attractive male expression, but one of the least attractive for women.
• Interestingly, an expression of shame was relatively attractive on both men and women.
Flirting can enhance your attraction.
University of New Mexico evolutionary psychologist Steven W. Gangestad told Psychology Today in 2016 that flirting is a “negotiation process” that happens after the first moments of attraction.
It’s a subtle sort of testing the waters. You don’t just say “I’m attracted to you; are you attracted to me?”
“It works much better to reveal [your attraction] and have it revealed to you in smaller doses,” Gangestad says. “The flirting then becomes something that enhances the attraction.”
It’s not about being the most attractive person in the room.
It’s about signaling that you’re available.
According to research from Webster University psychologist Monica Moore (who studied people’s flirting behavior at singles bars, shopping malls, and other places where young people meet), women who smiled and made eye contact with others were more likely to be approached than those who were simply good looking.
There may be five main styles of flirting.
When it comes to flirting, everyone’s got a different M.O.
In 2010, Jeffrey A. Hall and Chong Xing published research that suggests there are five different styles of flirting. In 2015, they followed up on this research by breaking down each style into a series of verbal and nonverbal behaviors.
Here are some key behaviors of each type, as described by Susan Krauss Whitbourne on Psychology Today:
• Physical flirts tend to subtly touch the person they’re interested in.
• Traditional flirts believe men should make the first move.
• Sincere flirts get other people to open up to them.
• Playful flirts see the interaction as a game and may be using the flirtation as a means to another end.
You can take a quiz, developed by Hall to figure out which style best describes you.
The best flirters shift their strategy depending on context.
If you’re flirting with someone perceived as higher status than you, being more subtle will lead to more success, according to research.
A 2014 study conducted by University of Pennsylvania professors found flirters who can adjust how overtly they flirt will have the best success. “Presence of rivals, the potential for an advance to be considered inappropriate, or the higher social status of the receiver” are all situations where you’re better off being more subtle.
If successful, flirting can lead others to think you are also funny or creative, as well as attractive.
If you’re flirting on an app, there are some words that work better than others.
Compliments over text go a long way, dating website Plenty of Fish finds.
The website analyzed 60,000 messages on dating apps to find the words that got the best responses. For men, calling a woman “beautiful” led to a conversation 20% of the time. Women messaging men first receive responses less often, but using the word “nice” works best.
Flirting could be all about biology.
Flirting may have less to do with words or body language, and more to do with biology.
Scientists have long speculated on how pheromones, or chemicals released by your body that have an impact on people around you, contribute to physical attraction. A 2011 study out of Florida State University found men who were exposed to pheromones released by ovulating women were more likely to drink alcohol and flirt with women.
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