How to Get Noticed: The Sexy Science of Flirting
She Has This Flirting Thing Nailed, But Do You?
The Purpose of Flirting
Flirting is an intricate dance, an advertisement of interest which begins with a glance. It's a giggle, a toss of the hair, a sway of the hips, a puffed out upper torso, a swagger... .
Hard-wired into our DNA, flirting involves a repertoire of gestures designed to quickly and safely assess the value of potential mates.
Attractiveness can be gauged in less than a tenth of a second, and whether we realize it or not, we use flirtation to exchange information about general health and reproductive fitness of potential mates.1
There is a science behind why we flirt the way we do. The following five basic tips can help you get noticed during your next flirting encounter.
Are you flirting for fun? Looking for a hook-up? Want to heat things up with your spouse? What you do with these tips is up to you!
Attract Some Attention: Signal Interest and Availability
5 Tips for Getting Noticed While Flirting
Tip 1: Turn Heads by Wearing Red
Do you tend to wear a lot of red? People who routinely wear the color tend to be more active, outgoing, and impatient than those who avoid it.
Red is traditionally known as a power color, linked with strength, competitive dominance, energy, vitality, and high status.2 It is also associated with passion and romance.
The Red Dress Effect
The "red dress effect" describes a subconscious, cross-cultural perception that red clothing is more sexually appealing. For example, the "lady in a red dress" is a cultural symbol for female sensuality.
Research has found that men perceive women in red be more open to sexual advances.3 (In men's defense, note that a variety of animals unwittingly flush red when they are sexually receptive.)
Similar research found that women dressed in red were considered to be more highly sexually attractive. In on-line dating profiles they received higher rates of responses when wearing red clothing.4
Also, dating websites that are geared more towards "hook-ups" rather than relationships tend to have a higher percentage of registrants who wear red clothing in their profile photos.
Furthermore, men expressed an intent to spend almost twice as much on a female date clad in red (compared with a date dressed in blue).
Dressing in red can be instrumentally beneficial in other contexts, too. Men gave 15-26% higher tips to waitresses who wore red (compared with those dressed in white).5 However, women customers were uninfluenced by what waitresses wore.
The red dress effect seems to have some biological underpinnings, as supported by the finding that the effect disappears once women reach menopausal age. (But ladies, wear what makes you feel good. Confidence counts.)
Reader Opinion Poll
What is your reaction to research on "red dress effect"?
Red: Not Just a Color for the Ladies
When it comes to flattery, did you know that the color red works for both women and men?
According to recent research, guys should wear red if they want to be perceived as more attractive and sexually desirable by the ladies.6
The research finding was consistent across cultures and is perhaps explained by a combination of two things:
- red is perceived as a high status color and
- high status is particularly sought after by women in a potential mate.
So, fellas, go stock up on red polos and ties. Amp up that sexiness, and get your game on.
No Cheese in This Grin
Tip 2: Smile Like You Mean It
A genuine smile—the so-called "Duchenne smile"— involves a symmetrical raising of the cheeks and the display of crows feet around the eyes. It can increase a woman's attractiveness and result in increased approachability.7
Note, however, that for men, smiling is associated with dominance. This is likely due to stereotypes. (Sorry, guys, life is not always fair.)
While about 80% of people can fake a "genuine" smile, there are key differences in fake vs. real smiles:
- different parts of the brain control them
- real smiles are associated with the emotional experience of enjoyment and
- real smiles are slower in onset. Smiles are judged as more attractive and trustworthy when you tilt your head in the same direction as your eye orientation or your partner.
How Good Are You at Spotting a Fake Smile?
Do you think you can tell the difference between a real smile and a fake one?
Test your abilities with the Fake Smile Quiz. It has 20 questions involving brief video clips of people smiling. The quiz takes 10 minutes or less to complete.
The Fake Smile Quiz is based on the extensive research of famed psychologist Paul Eckman, the foremost expert on facial expression.
Eckman has written extensively on the subject, and the Fox television network drama Lie to Me was based on his research.
Tip 3: Make Steady Eye Contact
Successful flirting also involves great eye contact. Eye contact is a strong form of nonverbal behavior, accounting for 43.4% of our attention when communicating interpersonally.8
In Western cultures where eye contact between the sexes is permitted, men and women engage in a "copulatory gaze" consisting of an intense stare lasting two to three seconds.9 Their pupils may dilate as they check one another out.
The person who initiated the gaze usually looks down then away. The target then decides to rebuff the attention or engage in a "return gaze."
Steady eye contact is associated with significantly higher feelings of liking and affection, and couples who spend more time gazing at one another report greater levels of passionate love for their partners.10
Creeper Alert: No Staring
Just a few seconds separate a Romeo and a Creeper. Look directly at the target of your flirtation, but please don't make it a staring contest. (Remember: To stare is to scare.) If you're looking at someone longer than 10 seconds straight, you've entered that Awkward Zone.11
Once you're in a conversation with Mr. or Ms. Sexy, briefly break eye contact approximately every five seconds by looking away horizontally.
Eye contact is a powerful connector, stimulating prefrontal areas of the brain and increasing heart rate, perspiration, and breathing. Connect first with the eyes and you just may find that you have a love connection.
Tip 4: Use Interpersonal Space To Your Advantage
Personal space refers to the zone of interpersonal distance that consistently separates an individual from others. Think of it as an invisible bubble that each person maintains around his or her body; strangers are generally forbidden from trespassing.
Personal space varies considerably with a person's culture, ethnicity, social standing, geography, life experiences (e.g., psychological trauma), and trait anxiety.12
Intimate distance refers to the zone extending from the body's surface to about 18 inches (46 cm) away. The area is typically reserved for those with whom we share an established emotional bond: lovers, close family members, friends, children, and pets. Personal distance refers to the zone extending roughly 1.5-4 feet (46-122 cm); friends and associates typically occupy this zone.
As you talk with your flirting partner and they become more comfortable, try subtly moving closer. Pay attention to their reaction.
Personal space conveys information about your partner's self-confidence as well as their desire for intimacy. Whether they back away can indicate their level of interest.
Flirty Men: Space Maximizers
Next time you're in a bar or other social setting where there is flirting, do some people watching.
Men who are more successful at flirting tend to use their bodies in "space maximization" movements which subconsciously announce their intentions to potential competitors.
For example, they extend an arm across an adjacent chair, sprawl out so their body takes up more room, extend their arms with stretching movements, and engage in non-reciprocated touching with nearby men (e.g., playful shoving, ribbing).13
Okay, This Is Just Creepy
Tip 5: Make the Connection Using Touch
Touch can be the difference between that cold, unlit match and the flame that ignites.
Brief touches such as brushes on the arm or a light touch to the shoulder are associated with increases in liking and attraction, so use touch to your advantage. Just make sure your touch is welcome. (Read your partner's cues.)
The use of a light forearm touch has been found to improve compliance with a variety of requests, ranging from providing one's phone number to requests for a slow dance.14 Touching communicates affection, receptiveness, immediacy, and similarity.
Studies show that gentle, informal touching and touching that involves hugging or face-to-face contact is perceived as the most flirtatious and romantic. A face touch, for example, is considered extremely flirtatious.
Furthermore, mutual touch has been found to be associated with significantly elevated heart rates and increased romantic desire, particularly when combined with eye contact.15
Suggestions For Using Social Touch In Flirting
Examples of how to successfully use touch when flirting:
1. Offer greeting hugs as a possible prelude to further physical contact.
2. Rather than sitting across from your flirting partner, sit side by side, with shoulders and thighs touching.
3. Get their attention when making a comment by patting their hand or forearm, or by touching their shoulders.
4. Employ "accidental" touches such as arm grazes (e.g., when reaching over them).
How To Flirt Better Using Science
Here's How You Communicate Disinterest Through Body Language
Social Signals Give You Away
Body language is often unintentional and subtle. Sometimes we don't even know we're sending certain signals. In the table below are 10 ways you may be communicating disinterest without even knowing it:
10 Ways You're Signaling "I'm NOT Interested"
You avert the person's gaze by looking up. This is equivalent to an "eye roll."
You don't nod your head to encourage them as they talk. (Are you actually yawning?)
You cross your arms tightly in front of your chest.
You step back when they try to touch you or when they move closer.
You stay with your friends when the person approaches you. (No one wants an audience when they're trying to make a move.)
You wear a scowl or other unpleasant expression on your face.
When the person asks you questions, you provide the briefest of answers.
You point your arms, knees and feet away from the person. They are visual indicators of the direction of your thoughts.
You don't hold up your end of the conversation by offering anecdotes, providing opinions, or asking them about the other person. Or you just look at your iPhone.
You speak slowly, hesitatingly, and inject a lot of "ahs" and "ums" into your conversation.
1Rodgers, Joann E. "Flirting Fascination | Psychology Today." Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. Last modified February 8, 2012. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199901/flirting-fascination.
2Empowered By Color. "The Color Red." Last modified 2013. http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/color-red.html.
3Strain, Daniel. "Red Dress Effect: Women In Red Deemed Open To Sexual Advances, Study Of Men Shows." The Huffington Post. Last modified February 28, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/red-dress-effect_n_1307051.html.
4Alter, Adam. "I See Red: The color you need to wear on your dating profile." Slate Magazine. Last modified March 21, 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/03/new_book_drunk_tank_pink_argues_red_is_the_color_for_dating_profiles.html
5Telegraph.co.uk. "Waitresses who wear red get 25 per cent more tips." Last modified August 3, 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9449373/Waitresses-who-wear-red-get-25-per-cent-more-tips.html.
6American Psychological Association. "Women More Attracted to Men in Red." Last modified August 2, 2010.
7Dean, Jeremy. "A Slow Smile Attracts." PsyBlog. Accessed October 23, 2013. http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/05/slow-smile-attracts.php.
8Nelson, Audrey. "The Politics of Eye Contact: A Gender Perspective | Psychology Today." Psychology Today. Last modified September 15, 2010. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/he-speaks-she-speaks/201009/the-politics-eye-contact-gender-perspective.
9Fischer, Helen E. "The Biology of Attraction | Psychology Today." Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. Last modified October 31, 2011. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199303/the-biology-attraction.
10Barker, Eric. "How To Make A Girl Fall In Love With You." Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Last modified November 11, 11. http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2011/11/can-staring-into-someones-eyes-make-them-fall/.
11McKay, Brett, and Kate McKay. "How to Use Eye Contact to Improve Your Business and Love Life." The Art of Manliness. Last modified February 12, 2012. http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/02/12/look-em-in-the-eye-part-ii-how-to-make-eye-contact-the-right-way-in-life-business-and-love/.
12Main, Douglas. "Get Out of My Face! Anxious People Need More Space | LiveScience." LiveScience.com. Last modified August 27, 2013. http://www.livescience.com/39229-personal-space-anxiety.html.
13Regan, Pamela C. "The Mating Game: A Primer on Love, Sex, and Marriage." Google Books. Accessed October 23, 2013. http://books.google.com/books?id=l-a85Iu2NCoC&pg=PA25&lpg=PA25&dq=flirting+space+maximization&source=bl&ots=7_D9FYSZvD&sig=13NnuGfIoQfTPl0oHlgqyteCpUQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=y4hoUqyqNJC0kAeXkoGAAg&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=flirting%20space%20maximization&f=false.
14Barker, Eric. "What simple thing can help a guy get a girl's number?" Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Last modified May 24, 2011. http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2011/05/what-simple-thing-can-help-a-guy-get-a-girls/.
15Nicholson, Jeremy. "How to Flirt and Seduce With Touch: Part 1 | Psychology Today." Psychology Today. Last modified February 2, 2012. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-attraction-doctor/201202/how-flirt-and-seduce-touch-part-1.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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