Humor works, as does laughing and giggling at the other person’s jokes. Hugging and kissing on the cheek does not.
Flirting is a complex type of communication. As you’re communicating verbally to the other person, you’re also sending out a bunch of verbal and non-verbal cues to them, whether you realize it or not — and they’re picking up on those cues, whether they realize it or not.
“Flirting involves different signals that people send to each other. It’s done to attract potential partners. Men and women both flirt to get the attention of a desired partner, and perhaps to achieve a sexual or romantic result from it,” says Professor Kennair.
“Flirting can be done verbally as well as non-verbally says T. Joel Wade, a Presidential Professor of Psychology at Bucknell University in the USA”, a co-author of the study.
Flirting can involve changes in vocal tones, jokes, or offerings, and the key to flirting is usually reaching a greater level of intimacy than you had at the start; after all, expressing sexual availability directly isn’t usually acceptable in today’s society. In general, we flirt to attract a partner or express our availability.
So how do you do it?
A group of researchers from Norway and the US surveyed close to 1000 students from both countries, assigning them to 1 of 4 different survey versions. The first thing researchers noticed from the surveys is that it’s important to establish what type of relationship you’re looking for.
“What’s most effective depends on your gender and whether the purpose of the flirtation is a long-term or short-term relationship,” says Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, a professor at NTNU’s Department of Psychology.
“People consider signals that you’re sexually available to be the most effective for women who are looking for a short-term relationship,” says Kennair.
So if you’re a woman who’s looking for a short-lived fling, you’d best be signaling this quickly. Hugging or kissing on the cheek (a relatively common tactic used to suggest intimacy) just doesn’t work in this context.
If you’re a man looking for a long-term relationship, you may want to focus on generosity and body language — communicate that you’re a giver that’s ready to commit.
But the most effective tools in flirting were humor and laughing. If you’re unsure of how to flirt and unsure what type of relationship you want, just use humor, you can’t go wrong with that. Don’t start with “hey you wanna hear a joke,” start with smiling and eye contact, but don’t be afraid to use humor — and if the other person also uses humor and laughs at your jokes, you’ve got a good shot.
“People think that humour, or being able to make another person laugh, is most effective for men who are looking for a long-term relationship. It’s least effective for women who are looking for a one-night stand. But laughing or giggling at the other person’s jokes is an effective flirtation tactic for both sexes,” says Kennair. “Smiling and eye contact are important. Then you can build your flirting skills from that base, using more advanced tactics,” Kennair says.
“It is not only effective to be funny, but for women it is very important that you show your potential partner that you think they are funny” Rebecca Burch, a co-author from SUNY Oswego, US, added.
Another interesting find from this study is that the same flirting cues seemed to work both in Norway and the USA, which suggests that these are only partly culturally relevant (for instance, the initial contact and variations in people’s body language may be different, but the general tactics are similar). In other words, flirting is more or less the same in the US and Norway. The researchers also took into account certain characteristics from participants, including their extroversion, age, how willing they are to have a relationship, and their attractiveness in the dating market.
“Individual differences in age, religiosity, extroversion, personal attractiveness, and preferences for short-term sexual relationships had little or no effect on how effective respondents considered the various flirting tactics to be,” says Bendixen.
“However, we do believe that personal characteristics affect the type of flirting people employ themselves,” says Bendixen.
The findings fit with previous research, supporting the idea that flirting is a universal mating strategy.
The study has been published in Evolutionary Psychology.