Traditional flirting strategy tells us that a woman attracts a man’s attention by impersonating an immovable object and smiling in his direction. Smiling is good. Smiling is an approachability signal that beckons “come hither”1 to the object of our desires and is perceived as being attractive.2 Unsurprisingly, women smile more when interacting with a man they find attractive.3 While she displays her expensive dentistry, what is his modus operandi? Again, traditional flirting strategy would dictate that he saunters over to her and says, “You must be a parking ticket, because you’ve got fine written all over you” But, do men and women have such different ways to show interest and attraction?
In a previous post, I discussed that both men and women said they were less choosy, more open to a potential mate, and more confident when they were the ones doing the approaching.4 So the genders feel the same when it comes to approaching others, but what about when it comes to other flirting styles? Does the same hold true when women are as direct as men? Is a woman’s upfront approach as effective as coquettishly flashing a smile when conveying interest?
According to a study conducted at Bucknell University, it is. Men and women indicated what they thought were the most effective strategies for showing their interest in spending time with someone. Strategies ranged anywhere from a subtle ‘hello’ to asking for a phone number. Participants rated direct questions such as “Do you want to go to dinner with me?” as the single most effective thing that a woman can do to show interest in a man.5 Both genders also thought such direct questions were the most effective thing a man could do. They agreed that the least effective measure was being subtle. Apparently, standing there with a winsome smile is not going to cut it! The case for being direct does not end there. Other studies have found that a direct gaze also indicates attraction, willingness to be approached, and attention.6 And, as long as the direct gaze does not move into creepy territory, potential partners perceive it as attractive.7,8
Why do both men and women feel the most effective way for a woman to show perceived interest is by being direct? Directness cancels out ambiguity. As many confused males can attest, the study also found that a woman’s signals in the first minute are always the same, regardless of whether or not she is interested.9 Therefore, at the beginning of an interaction, it is hard for a man to gauge a woman’s interest; clear, direct signals mean he does not need to try and decipher messages more complicated than Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Ladies, you know how your mothers told you that playing hard to get was best? Perhaps this should be re-thought. A situation being easy, doesn’t mean that you are ‘easy’!
1Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1989). Human ethology. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
2O’Doherty, J., Winston, J., Critchley, H., Perrett, D., Burt, D. M., & Dolan, R. J. (2003). Beauty in a smile: The role of medial orbitofrontal cortex in facial attractiveness. Neuropsychologia, 41, 147–155.
3Hazlett, R. L., & Hoehn-Saric, R. (2000). Effects of perceived physical attractiveness on females’ facial displays and affect. Evolution and Human Behavior, 21, 49–57.
4Finkel, E. J., & Eastwick, P. W. (2009). Arbitrary social norms influence sex differences in romantic selectivity. Psychological Science, 20, 1290-1295.
5Wade, J., Butrie, L., Hoffman, K. (2009). Women’s direct opening lines are perceived as most effective. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 145-149.
6Kleinke, C. L. (1986). Gaze and eye contact: A research review. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 78–100.
7Kampe, K. K. W., Frith, C. D., Dolan, R. J., & Frith, U. (2001). Reward value of attractiveness and gaze. Nature, 413, 589.
8Mason, M. F., Tatkow, E., & Macrae, C. N. (2005). The look of love: Gaze shifts and person perception. Psychological Science, 16, 236–239.
9Grammer, K., Kruck, K., Juette, A., & Fink, B. (2000). Non-verbal behavior as courtship signals: The role of control and choice in selecting partners. Evolution and Human Behavior, 21, 371–390.
Jean Smith – Website
Jean Smith is a cultural and social anthropologist with expertise in human attraction, body language and how we flirt with one another. Her research primarily addresses the ways different cultures display and interpret attraction. She is currently writing a book encompassing her research, which highlights how culturally specific influences, such as religion, history, economics, political beliefs and sociality impact the way in which attraction/flirting is exhibited. Jean received her Masters in Social Anthropology from The School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Alongside her Flirtology website, she runs seminars and training courses that give a fresh take on how to manage important conversations and interactions.