Who’s Flirting With You?
A recent study found that only 28% of people can accurately detect when other people flirt with them. Despite that, it’s easy to see the signs if you know what to look for.
Differences between men and women
Flirting doesn’t just happen in the bar or at a party. It can happen anywhere and a lot of the time people don’t even know that they’re doing it. It can happen at the supermarket, while buying something in a shop, during small talk, or at work.
Studies show that men and women have different perceptions when it comes to flirtatious behaviour. Men, for instance, are quicker to assume that a particular behaviour or action from another person is flirtatious. Whether that’s just wishful thinking on their part or a failure to properly identify cues, men appear to have a harder time knowing if a woman is actually flirting or merely being friendly.
Much of what takes place when people flirt is subtle and hard to decode. Though that may seem counterproductive for relationship formation, it is strategic. Often, the individual doing the flirting is unsure whether the target of their affection will have similar levels of interests – so they mask their intentions with ambiguity. That way, they can ‘test the waters’ without fully exposing their intentions.
All of this means it can be difficult to know whether or not someone is actually flirting with you, or just being ‘nice’. A recent study examining flirtatious behaviour saw more than 100 heterosexual strangers engage in conversation with another participant. Afterwards, researchers asked each individual if they flirted during the interaction and whether or not they thought their conversation partner flirted with them. Participants were only able to accurately detect flirtatious behaviour around 28% of the time. A follow-up study found that when external observers were asked the same questions, they were even less accurate.
What to look out for?
Relationship psychologists have uncovered a few things to look for when trying to tell whether someone is flirting with you or not.
To determine what people do when showing romantic interest in others, researchers videotaped the interactions between two opposite-sex strangers for 10 minutes. Afterward, each person was asked about their interaction and how they felt about the other participant, matching their answers with gestures and behaviours noted during the interaction. While the amount of laughter during the conversation did not appear to indicate romantic interest, males who were interested in the other person gave off more dominance signals (eg taking up space, leaning forward) during laughter, while women who were more interested engaged in more body presentation (posturing in a way that accentuate physical features).
Another study videotaped people who were given the opportunity to flirt. These individuals were then asked to indicate which behaviours, if any, were flirtatious. Interactions early on in the meeting were not found to indicate actual interest – in fact, women with low and high interest gave off the same amount of solicitation signals. Real interest was only discernible if women kept giving signals over time. Later on in the interaction, women who tilted their head, used more hand gestures, smiled a suggestive way, or were more likely to play with their clothing were becoming more interested in the other party.
Overall, men were more interested in females than females were in men, and were most interested when they considered the females physically attractive. Men who were particularly interested in the other party talked more throughout the interaction. It was also found that female non-verbal signals, for example, head-nodding, served as indicators to encourage or discourage men’s talking. The study found that women reacted negatively if men spoke too much.
Are you flirting with me?
One researcher created a catalogue of female flirting behaviours by observing over 200 women in a singles bar. Some of the most common behaviours included smiling, glancing around the room, dancing alone and laughing. But while these are common forms of flirting behaviour, none are clear-cut signs of actual interest.
Accuracy in identifying flirting would increase rapidly if flirters were more direct and obvious about their intentions. However, when it comes to forming new relationships, it’s important to try to identify signs of flirtatious behaviour. While you can risk embarrassment by misreading signals, no one really wants to miss out on a rewarding relationship, if both parties are mutually attracted.