We're All Terrible at Flirting


Flirting might seem like a romantic code language that everyone but you is fluent in, but the truth of the matter — according to a recent study — is that almost everyone is really bad at it. Whether it’s laying down our own flirting techniques or picking up on when someone else is flirting with us, people are miscommunicating signals left and right.

Jeffrey Hall, a researcher who specializes in the behavior of flirting at the University of Kansas , conducted a pair of studies: one to determine how well people picked up on being flirted with and another to find out if a third-party observer was better or worse at identifying flirting than the two primary people in a conversation.

From the University of Kansas press release:

The first study brought together 52 pairs of single, heterosexual college students. The pairs of strangers sat alone in a room and talked for 10 to 12 minutes in what they thought was a study on first impressions. At the end of the study, the students were asked to fill out questionnaires in separate rooms. Among other things, students had to note if they flirted and if they thought their counterpart had.

While 80% of the group were able to accurately identify when someone wasn’t flirting, only 36% of men and 18% of women could tell that their partner was being flirtatious. In one particularly tragic pairing, both the man and woman said that they were flirting with their partners, but neither of them thought that they were being flirted with back. (Imagine the looks of longing that these two will share across the student union…)

“If you think someone is not interested in you, you are probably right, they are not interested,” remarked Hall. “But if someone is, you probably missed it.”

So even if you’re not being rejected, you could very easily end up rejecting yourself. To turn a negative into a positive, this is a very self-reliant way to do dating.

For the second study:

Hall had more than 250 people watch six one-minute video clips of those in the first study interacting. Just one person was shown at a time. The third-party observers were not any more accurate in detecting flirting than those taking part in the interactions. When flirting didn’t occur, they were 66 percent accurate. When it did, they were 38 percent accurate.

In other words, your chosen wing-person is probably doing a shit job, but back to the research findings:

The lowest accuracy rate was found in females observing males flirting. They identified the flirting just 22 percent of the time. Both men and women had an easier time detecting when females were flirting. Hall said that could be because women tend to be more transparent.

We girls do tend to say “AWOOOOGA” a lot.

But whether you’re a man or woman, chances are that your heterosexual flirting is pretty hapless. As Hall puts it:

“Behavior that is flirtatious is hard to see, and there are several reason for that. People aren’t going to do it in obvious ways because they don’t want to be embarrassed, flirting looks a lot like being friendly, and we are not accustomed to having our flirting validated so we can get better at seeing it.”

BTW, I was flirting with you throughout this entire article.

Image via Shutterstock.

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