Q: How do I know when a woman is flirting with me, what are the types of flirting, and how can I tell?
A: Welcome to the modern era, when science answers pressing sociobiological questions like: “What are the five main styles of flirting?” And indeed, science has identified five main ways that flirting happens, and what behaviors to look for with each one.
- Previous research has identified a few ways to “initiate courtship” in scientific terms (AKA flirt).
- Two researchers published an article in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior to tie some of the previously-discovered flirting styles to nonverbal behaviors.
- To do this, they contrived some dating scenarios in their psychology laboratory – they basically put guys and women together and observed their behaviors.
- The five flirting styles identified in previous research are:
- Physical (using physical confidence and physicality to flirt)
- Traditional (waiting for men to make the first move)
- Sincere (showing emotional connection and sincere interest)
- Polite (cautious, non-forward, and following proper manners)
- Playful (having fun, boosting self-esteem)
- How do these flirting styles happen and what nonverbal and verbal behaviors do men look for to identify each type?
- The researchers recruited 51 pairs of single, heterosexual students at a Midwestern university.
- Participants were mostly white, but there were minorities of Asian, Hispanic/Latino, African American, and Native American participants.
- Each participant filled out a survey indicating what their main preferred flirting style is.
- The participants were first told that the study was about “first impressions.”
- Then, participants were put in a room with a member of the opposite sex, and the interactions were videotaped. They were given “get to know you” questions on cards and told to interact with the person for 10 minutes.
- After the 10-minute period, the participants were separated and then asked to fill out a questionnaire about the other person in the room. Most importantly, they were asked whether they were physically attracted to the person in different ways.
- Then, judges viewed the video interactions to rate them in a few ways.
- The important part is that the judges watched the behavior of the participants and wrote down the ways they seemed to be flirting.
- This wasn’t an abstract, subjective thing. The judges were instructed to specifically rate whether the dating partners engaged in many flirting behaviors, such as:
Touching hair, face, or body
Nodding, saying yes
Biting, licking lips or putting objects in mouth
Disclosing personal information
Adjusting clothing or objects
“Breast Presentation” (yes, they actually rated this, and even measured the number of seconds this occurred – defined as “Lifting or expanding chest/breast area by extending lower back upward toward other person” or “Pressing breasts together with upper torso”)
Leaning forward or moving closer
Self-touching (defined as “running hands along any part of the body” or scratching any part of the body)
- If the judges’ ratings didn’t agree with each other, those ratings were discarded. So, the judgments had to be in some sense obvious and agreed-upon.
- As you can see, this list includes both verbal and non-verbal behaviors.
- Not only did they measure whether the flirting behaviors occurred, they measured at what point in the 10-minute meeting they occurred.
- For instance, they were interested in whether flirting occurred at the beginning, middle, or end of the “date.”
- This makes sense: if a woman flirts at the beginning but then stops at the end, that might be a signal things aren’t going too well.
- The researchers calculated people’s “flirting styles” by simply looking at how they rated themselves at the beginning.
- Then, they looked at each person’s behaviors to see what behaviors were related to what flirting styles.
- Here is a list of each flirting style and what behaviors were common to each style.
- People who rated themselves as “physical” flirters experienced better “conversational fluency” (they were more confident in their conversations and there were fewer awkward pauses).
- Female Physical Flirts who were attracted to their partner tended to ask fewer questions and engaged in less self-touch. They also used more open hand/palm gestures and offered affirmations (nods, saying yes) in the beginning.
- Overall, Physical Flirters as more willing to flirt, had more confidence, and could get people to notice their flirting. Physical Flirters are basically those who are conversationally and physically confident – it wasn’t even necessarily about physical behaviors so much as physical confidence.
- People who rated themselves as “traditional” flirters who were attracted to their partners were more likely to nod or say yes (affirmations) at the beginning and gesture with open hands/palms toward the end.
- Female Traditional Flirters offered flirtatious gazes throughout the date, smiled, and laughed.
- Traditional Flirters are those who follow old-school guidelines for male-female interaction. The researchers indicated that these flirters were less open in their flirting behaviors in general. They expected men to make the first move.
- People who rated themselves as “sincere” flirters who were attracted to their partners used more flirtatious glancing, LESS self-touching, and LESS teasing.
- Female Sincere Flirters expressed more smiles and laughs, used hand gestures, and had more ease in conversation at the beginning.
- Sincere Flirters are the most obvious, because they will communicate interest/attraction by showing sincere, honest interest in you. They will make eye contact, smile, and laugh if they’re attracted to you.
- People who rated themselves as “polite” flirters who were attracted to their partners tended to have LESS self-touch, and had lower voices (no high-pitched “OMGs” for these folks). These flirters asked fewer questions.
- Polite Flirters are polite, cautious, and non-sexual in their style. They will communicate interest by changing distance – they will literally move closer to you if interested. These kinds of flirters can be seen as “aloof” or “distant” even when interested.
- People who rated themselves as “playful” flirters who were attracted to their partners were the most flamboyant – they tended to use compliments, “present their breasts,” ask FEWER questions, shrug, and have flirtatious gazes.
- Playful Flirters may not even be intending to find a mate. They tend to flirt to boost their own self-esteem. Female Playful Flirters will act coy and use a wide variety of strategies to pursue their courtship goals.
- Regardless of flirting style, the researchers wanted to know what behaviors were more common when a person was highly attracted to their partners.
- They found that, overall, people who were attracted to their partners offered more compliments, flirtatious/coy glances or gazes, touched themselves more often, and teased more.
- Women who were more attracted to their partners tended to express joy/happiness through smiling and laughing, and gesture more with open hands/wrists (as opposed to closed-off gestures like arms crossed).
- Not exactly rocket science – women who smiled and laughed more were more attracted to the other person.
- Knowing a person’s “flirting style” can help a man interpret the behavior of a dating partner.
- This requires a man to get to know a woman a little more across a few different environments.
- For instance: “Coy” or “distant” behavior by a Physical or Playful Flirter is a signal of disinterest – but for Polite or Traditional Flirters, this may signal interest.
- Overall, though, there are a few things that are common across all styles. If a person is attracted to you, they will be more likely to smile, laugh, compliment, touch themselves, and openly gesture with their hands.
- A major take-away from this research is that a lot of common and strong signals of interest are obvious (laughing, smiling, complimenting, etc.). There aren’t too many secret codes.
Hall, J. A., Xing, C. (2015). The verbal and nonverbal correlates of the five flirting styles. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 39, 41-68. Link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10919-014-0199-8