The Science of Flirting

The Science of Flirting

flirtingWhat is the science of flirting? If your answer is a clutch of pitch-perfect lines, you need to think again. Likewise, those abysmal negging’ techniques popularised by pick-up artist culture. It’s an often quoted statistic that in terms of attraction, only 7% comes from what we say. That compares to 38% via the tone and speed of our voice, and 55% through body language.

So what are the surefire ways to score a second date? Allow us to be your scientific stone:

Eye contact

Making eye contact is important in all facets of life — not just flirting — so it’s more or less self-evident that it’s often key to scoring that second date. Indeed, New York psychologist Professor Arthur Aron made a fascinating discovery in 1997 when he asked pairs of complete strangers to spend an hour and a half sharing their most intimate details, before taking four minutes to stare deeply into each other’s eyes. Many of Aron’s couples wound up feeling deeply attracted to one another. One couple even married (!). So when you’re on a date, make sure you maintain that eye contact (and watch for the telltale sign of dilated pupils in your company — a sure sign they’re interested).

Smile, judiciously

You’ve likely heard before that the very act of smiling can make you happier. Well, when another person smiles at you it triggers exactly the same chemical reaction. That’s why being around positive people makes you happier, a phenomenon known as ‘emotional contagion’. Don’t force it, though. Smiling too often too early will come across as disingenuous; the situation needs to earn it. But when it does, don’t hold back.

Body language

The brain takes between 90 seconds and four minutes to decide if there is a chemical attraction to another person. This means, and I hate to break it to you, that first impressions count. The way you sit, the way you walk, the way you stand — it all adds up. So never slouch, walk with purpose, and when standing, keep your shoulders back, straightening your back (If you’re lucky, your parents or siblings beat all of this into you when you were young anyway). Talk with your hands open — it’s a sign of honest communication — and if you’re interested in who you’re courting your legs and feet should always be pointed towards them.


Actions speak louder than words, right? Well, it’s no different with flirting. A simple touch can communicate in a microsecond our feelings for another person. The trick is to get it right. And these rules apply differently to men and women. If you’re a man, you need to be careful, lest you go ‘nuclear’. So, keep your big ugly mits away from her face. Instead, a gentle touch on the elbow or shoulder will suffice, particularly when leaning down in a loud environment, or sharing a private joke. This all plays into what Dr Pamela Regan calls ‘displays of social dominance’ — signals of positive intentions and status that women generally find attractive.

If you’re a woman, you can get away with a wider array of touching. You can even get away with the face touch, as long as it’s gentle and playful. According to Regan, any gentle, informal touching that occurs face to face seems to convey the most relational intent.

Location, Location, Location

This should be intuitive. Basically, different gestures, words and actions mean different things in different environments. The more formal the setting, the more obvious you need to be to get the message across. So compliments, eye contact and touching gestures will more readily be registered as flirting in, say, a bar than in a library. So save your technique for afterwork drinks.

Science for everyone

Regardless, flirting is probably easier than you think – and oddly, more innocent in its methods. Often it is simply about being a good communicator. What will make you appealing company in general will apply to a potential love interest. Smile. Be courteous. Listen. Ask questions. Maintain eye contact. Maintain open body language. Sometimes it’s that simple.