The science of flirting

There may be, as Paul Simon wrote, 50 ways to leave your lover, recent research has discovered there are even more ways to attract one–52, to be exact.

That’s according to Dr. Monica Moore, an associate professor at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, who recently undertook the first serious study of the science of female flirting.

Specifically, she observed the “mating patterns” of more than 200 women in four different locations: a singles’ bar, a university snack bar, a university library and at University Women’s Center meetings.

The first thing she noted was that non-verbal flirting occurs most often in “mate relevant” situations–that is, situations in which men are both present and approachable.

She also proved that flirting works: flirting women were four times as likely to be approached by men. Men, it seems, are attracted by flirting like bees to flowers.

Moore counted 52 unique flirting actions, demonstrated pretty much the same by all the women she observed, regardless of other factors like race, social status or age. Flirting, it seems, is a universal language.

She organized the 52 actions into three generic types: facial and head patterns, gestures and posture patterns.

Facial patterns included glances. What Moore calls a Type One glance, a glance that takes in the whole room, is often the first thing a woman does on entering a room. For five or 10 seconds, she assesses the situation without targeting a specific individual.

The Type Two glance, or “short dating glance,” is directed to a specific man. It’s a sideways glance lasting no more than three seconds, and usually occurs in bouts of three, separated by short intervals. Should the target of a Type Two glance meet the eyes of the woman, there may follow a Type Three glance, a fixated gaze of more than three seconds.

Other facial and head patterns include the eyebrow flash, head toss, hair flip, head nod and face-to-face, in which a woman brings herself nearly nose-to-nose with her target. Neck presentation is another common behaviour: the head is tilted about 45 degrees to the side, exposing the neck to the man. Mouth-related movements include applying lipstick, licking the lips, pouting slightly, smiling, giggling, laughing and gently kissing. Almost all the women in the study used whispering, too.

Gestures included flexing the arms and bringing them toward the body, tapping a man’s forearm, showing the palms of the hand, gesturing in an exaggerated way during conversation, and talking to a man while holding his hand. Primping–unnecessary adjustments to clothing–turned up frequently. Moore saw two women hike their skirts up slightly to draw a particular man’s attention; when a different man looked, they pulled their skirts back down.

Toying with inanimate objects, such as drinking glasses, cigarette packs, keys or rings was another behavior. Touching the man’s face, leg, arm, torso or back or, for those who were tired of being overly subtle, his rear end, was also common.

Posture behaviors included leaning toward the man or “accidentally” brushing up against him, or touching knees or thighs or feet while seated. Some woman took a man’s hand and deliberately placed it on their own arm, thigh or lap. Hugs of many types were used, too.

Parading, walking across the room with an exaggerated swing of the hips, back arched, stomach flat, breasts protruding and head held high, was a sure way for a woman to attract attention. (Chimpanzees and other primates use it, too!).

Indicating a willingness to dance by nodding or gesturing to the dance floor or dancing by themselves was common, as was “pointing”–pointing to a chair, for instance, to let a man know it’s OK if he sits beside her. Asking a man for help with a jacket or a cigarette was another.

Finally there was “play”–childlike behaviours such as covering a man’s eyes, pinching him, tickling him or sneaking up behind him and stealing his cap.

Some of this is conscious behavior, some of it isn’t. What’s certain is that in any room containing lots of men and women, there’s a lot more communicating going on than could ever be picked up on a tape recorder.

Unattached men may want to conduct their own research in the field of female flirting. No doubt there are many exciting discoveries to be made.

Men with wives or girlfriends, however, should perhaps concentrate on safer areas of research– exploring active volcanoes comes to mind.

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