If you have been on a date trying to interpret subtle signals like her body language or what he says at the end of the night, you know that the answer to this question is a difficult one. In fact, studies show that most people are really bad at knowing who is interested in them (e.g., Back et al., 2011a). Although human attraction is a complex issue, psychologists have made a few steps in helping to solve this riddle.
In a recent study of speed daters, researchers found that certain personality types were better at predicting whether speed dating partners wanted a second date (Back et al., 2011a). The set up was typical of a speed-dating event. A group of single men and women were paired up such that each man talked to each woman for 3 minutes. After the end of each date, participants indicated whether they wanted to see that person again and whether they felt the person wanted to see him or her.
Men who were more promiscuous (also known as sociosexually unrestricted) and women who had warm/kind personalities (also known as agreeable) were better at telling who was interested in them. Researchers suggest that there is something to having a more stereotypical personality that makes sexually-open men and kind women more accurate. Maybe being more “normal” makes others more comfortable with them and therefore easier to read or perhaps “normalcy” gives these people more opportunity and practice at attracting potential mates.
Another study looked to see if other things like flirting behavior would add anything more to this riddle (Back at al, 2011b). In general, people flirted with others who flirted with them and people were attracted to flirters. However, flirting itself wasn’t associated with choosing others more. In other words, flirters (relative to non-flirters) were not more attracted to others. Despite this general finding, at the individual level, people were more likely to choose partners who they flirted with. So perhaps the lesson is that flirting is a hint that things are going in the right direction but not the entire key.
Back, M.D., Penke, L., Schmukle, S.C., & Asendorpf, J.B. (2011). Knowing your own mate value: sex-specific personality effects on the accuracy of expected mate choices. Psychological Science, 22 (8), 984-9 PMID: 21724949
Back, M., Penke, L., Schmukle, S., Sachse, K., Borkenau, P., & Asendorpf, J. (2011). Why mate choices are not as reciprocal as we assume: The role of personality, flirting and physical attractiveness European Journal of Personality, 25 (2), 120-132 DOI: 10.1002/per.806