How People Flirt: A Scientific Guide

How People Flirt

 

Flirting is a key part of many social interactions. At the same time however, flirting is also a behavior that few people truly understand.

Fortunately, psychologists have conducted quite a bit of research on the topic of flirting. In the following article, you will learn about the different styles of flirting, including the verbal and nonverbal behaviors that people engage in, and about how you can use this knowledge in practice.

 

The five flirting styles

Research shows that people use five main styles of flirting, with each person displaying different levels of each style:

  • Physical– individuals with this flirting style feel comfortable expressing their desire through physical behavior. Consequently, they generally have an easy time signaling their attraction, and their behavior is often likely to be interpreted as sexual in nature.
  • Sincere– individuals with this flirting style focus on creating an emotional bond with their potential romantic partners. As such, they tend to develop intimacy early on in relationships, by eliciting self-disclosure, providing social support, and showing personal interest, generally in a romantic (but not necessarily sexual) manner.
  • Playful- individuals with this flirting style tend to flirt in a way that is playful and lighthearted. As such, they are generally not concerned with how others may interpret their behavior, and they often view flirting as a behavior that is inherently satisfying, even if it doesn’t lead to anything serious.
  • Traditional– individuals with this flirting style attempt to behave within the boundaries of traditional gender roles. As such, they expect the man to be the active initiator in the courtship process, and the woman to play a more passive role.
  • Polite- individuals with this flirting style use a relatively cautious approach to courtship. As such, they tend to avoid behaviors that could potentially be construed by others as inappropriate, aggressive, or needy.

Overall, the physical, sincere, and playful flirting styles are correlated with more dating success. Furthermore, the physical and sincere styles are correlated with a rapid escalation of relationships that involve a strong physical chemistry, and a powerful emotional connection.

Conversely, the traditional flirting style is associated with a difficulty in finding new romantic partners, and with a relatively slow rate of relational development once a partner has been found. Similarly, the polite style is associated with an interest in fewer potential partners, and with a lower degree of openness to flirtation.

Note: the majority of research on the topic focused on flirtation among heterosexual partners. Because of this, it contains some aspects which may not always translate directly to non-heterosexual relationships, such as the concept of the traditional flirting style.

 

Verbal and nonverbal flirting behaviors

In terms of flirting behavior, there are some generalizations that can be made regarding how people act when they are interested in someone:

  • In general, most men and women expect the man to initiate verbal contact in the courtship process.
  • Women, on the other hand, tend to signal receptiveness through nonverbal cues, such as prolonged eye contact.
  • However, though women tend to use eye contact to signal interest more frequently than men, both genders tend to exhibit flirtatious eye contact when they are attracted to the person they are flirting with, especially at the initial stages of the interaction.
  • When a woman is interested in someone, she tends to smile more while talking with him, particularly during the later stages of the interaction.
  • Before approaching a woman, men tend to make space-maximizing movements, such as extending their arms across adjacent chairs. At the same time, they also tend to minimize closed-body positions, such as crossing their arms and legs.
  • While flirting, individuals who are attracted to their partner tend to compliment them relatively frequently, particularly at the beginning of the interaction.

 

Implementing this knowledge

There are three main ways in which you can use your understanding of how people flirt:

  • First, you can use this understanding in order to improve your own flirting style in general.
  • Second, you can use this understanding in order to tailor the way you flirt in a way that fits a specific partner that you are interested in.
  • Finally, you can also use this understanding in order to develop a smart preselection process, that will allow you to get better results in the courtship process, by choosing which people to approach in the first place.

 

Improving your own flirting style

You can make your own flirting style more effective, by using your understanding of flirting behavior in order to emphasize your strengths and address your weaknesses.

For example, if you’ve identified that you have a physical flirting style, you could choose to go focus on situations where you have a lot of physical interactions with your potential partner (e.g. dancing), while avoiding scenarios where such contact doesn’t take place (e.g. online).

On the other hand, if you have a primarily polite flirting style and therefore struggle to get others to understand that you are interested in them romantically, you could choose to be a bit more forthcoming in your approach, in order to compensate for your natural tendency to be reserved.

 

Tailoring your flirting style to your partner’s

You can also tailor your flirting style in order to make it fit a specific person better, since understanding the flirting style of potential partners allows you to predict what type of flirting behavior they prefer to engage in.

For example, if you are someone with a playful flirting style, and you are interested in someone with a physical flirting style, you could channel your playfulness to more physical areas.

Conversely, if you have a playful flirting style, and you are interested in someone with a polite flirting style, you could reduce the playful nature of your flirting, and act in a more conservative way.

 

Deciding who to approach in the first place

Understanding your own flirting style, as well as the flirting style of potential partners, will allow you to benefit from a smarter preselection process.

Specifically, by looking at your own flirting style and at the flirting style of a potential partner, you could decide whether you should even approach them in the first place, based on how well your flirting styles will fit together.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have the exact same flirting style. Rather, it means that you should attempt to engage with people whose flirting style will work with yours in some way.

For example, someone with a polite flirting style could have good chemistry with someone that has a sincere flirting style. Similarly, a playful flirting style could work well with a physical flirting style. However, a playful flirting style is unlikely to work well on someone who favors a polite flirting style.

Obviously, if you’re truly interested in someone, this isn’t necessarily a reason not to approach them. However, in some scenarios, and particularly when you’re not yet committed and have multiple options, a smart preselection process can help both you and your potential partner save time and effort.

 

Important reminder about flirting styles

When considering flirting styles, it’s important to keep in mind that people generally display varying degrees of different styles, and that these styles are often related to each other.

For example, the traditional flirting style is positively correlated with the polite flirting style, meaning that people who favor polite courtship also tend to favor the traditional style of flirting. Similarly, the playful flirting style is positively correlated with the physical flirting style, so that people who tend to be playful when they flirt also tend to be comfortable expressing their physical attraction in their flirting.

Overall, the key thing that you should do is remember the different styles of flirting, and account for them when you interact with a potential partner. This means assessing your own flirting style as well as the flirting style of your potential partner, and acting accordingly when flirting, while also using this knowledge to determine whether you should even flirt with them in the first place.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Research identifies five main styles of flirting: physical, sincere, playful, traditional, and polite.
  • The physical style is associated with expressing interest through physical behavior. The sincere style is associated with attempts to create an emotional bond. The playful style is associated with playful, non-committed behavior. The traditional style is associated with behavior which abides by traditional gender roles. The polite style is associated with a highly cautious approach to flirting.
  • People display different levels of each style, and different styles are correlated with each other, so that a person who is playful is also likely to be physical, while someone who is polite is also likely to be traditional.
  • Men tend to initiate verbal contact, and often make space-maximizing movements before approaching a woman. Women, on the other hand, tend to signal interest through nonverbal cues, such as prolonged eye contact, and often smile more when they are interested in a prospective partner.
  • You can use this knowledge in three main ways. First, you can improve your own flirting style, by playing to your strengths and working on your weaknesses. Second, you can tailor your flirting style to work well with the flirting style of a specific person that you are interested in. Finally, you can improve your preselection process, by assessing your own flirting style and that of your potential partner, before deciding whether to approach them in the first place.