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How to Flirt: Strategies Proven by Science

by Nadine Kalinauskas
How to Flirt

“Flirt” doesn’t have to be a bad (or terrifying) word. In fact, there’s plenty of scientific research backing up certain strategies for getting a crush’s attention.

Here are some simple flirting strategies — and the science to back them up.


Smiling is a flirting strategy both men and women can understand. (Science says so.) The only caveat: it can’t be fake. People respond to a Duchenne smile — the kind that gives you crow’s feet and appears most genuine.

A smile doesn’t just make you look more friendly and approachable, it can boost your perceived attractiveness. A study published in the journal Cognition and Emotion concluded that “the evaluation of attractiveness is strongly influenced by the intensity of a smile expressed on a face: A happy facial expression could even compensate for relative unattractiveness.”

Make eye contact.

Pair that genuine smile with eye contact, and you’ll deepen any initial attraction.

Making eye contact doesn’t just signal interest, it can actually deepen attraction. Two studies found that subjects who engaged in a mutual unbroken gaze for just two minutes with a stranger of the opposite sex reported “increased feelings of passionate love for each other.” (Note: In the real world, eye contact becomes awkward after 3.3 seconds. So don’t overdo it.)


A light touch on the arm might just help you get her number. Several studies have found that touching can increase attraction — especially when paired with eye contact.

(Touching a stranger is a bold move, so do so briefly, gently, and with caution, sticking to appropriate areas, like the arm. Avoid anything that might be interpreted as too sexual or aggressive, like a hand around the waist, or too formal, like a handshake.)

Make ‘em laugh.

A sense of humor can make you appear more likeable, and can increase both trust and attraction when used carefully. (Keep it lighthearted and goodnatured. Skip the dark or controversial stuff with strangers.)

According to the Social Issues Research Centre, “Judicious use of humour can reduce anxiety and establish a relaxed mood which helps a relationship to develop more rapidly. A slightly risqué joke can help to escalate the level of intimacy in a flirtatious conversation.”

Tip: Men apparently respond well to playful teasing.

Play “hard to get.”

Studies have determined that playing hard to get actually works — if you do it right. In order to increase a person’s desire for and interest in you, they have to be already interested in you before you present him/her with a bit of a challenge.

Playing hard to get tells a prospective date that you’re valuable and selective about your romantic partners. When men play hard to get and keep women guessing, they create greater interest.

Of course, if you both play hard to get, the relationship isn’t going to go anywhere. So here’s some advice for making it work for you, according to Richard Wiseman’s book, 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

“As a result of the interviews, the researchers speculated that the best strategy would be to give a potential date the impression that in general you were hard to get (and therefore a scarce resource worth having) but really enthusiastic about him or her specifically. They tested this notion by using some of the same techniques… and found overwhelming evidence to support their hypothesis.”

Wear red.

Red is sexy — for both genders. According to various studies, the color red is an “attraction booster.” In one study, women associated men in front of red backgrounds with higher social statuses. And in another, men were willing to spend more money on dates with women in red than on women wearing other colors. (Scientists believe men perceive women in red to be more sexually receptive, and therefore more attractive.)

Dress at your own risk.

Buy her a (hot) drink.

If you’re going to buy her a drink, make it a hot one. A study out of Yale University found that a person holding a hot drink is more likely to judge others as generous and caring than if they were holding a cold drink.

“It appears that the effect of physical temperature is not just on how we see others, it affects our own behaviour as well,” said John A Bargh, a professor of psychology at Yale and co-author of the paper. “Physical warmth can make us see others as warmer people, but also cause us to be warmer – more generous and trusting – as well.”

Play the guitar. Or at least carry a guitar case.

In an experiment published in the journal Psychology of Music, women were more likely to give their phone numbers to men carrying guitar cases than men who were empty-handed or carrying sports bags, “thus suggesting that musical practice is associated with sexual selection.”

Channel James Bond.

James Bond does well with the ladies — and science can explain why. (Hint: he’s confident, calm, witty, rich and exciting to be around.)

But before you adopt 007 as your dating role model, be careful:

“How it can go very, very wrong: James Bond is a terrifying misogynistic psychopath and if he was real he'd be in like 100 prisons right now. So. Good luck with that,” wrote Lindy West for Jezebel.

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