Someone might be flirting with you RIGHT NOW without you even realising.
We’ve all heard that nonverbal communication is one way to tell if someone’s attracted to you. But we’re usually informed that everyone expresses this attraction in the same way: leaning forward, touching your arm, mirroring your actions… You know, the classics.
But a new study from the University of Kansas suggests that there are different flirting styles, some of which are more reserved than others. Jeffrey Hall is an associate professor of communications who’s identified five main styles: physical, traditional, sincere, polite and playful.
He and his colleague Chong Xing set up a study with 51 opposite-sex heterosexual pairs who had never met before. [Sidebar: hey, science. Ever thought about including non-heterosexual people in your love studies? It’s 2015.] All participants were asked to identify their own flirting style, and then filmed as they talked to their study partner for around 10 minutes. Afterward, they each reported how attracted they were to the person they’d spoken to.
When they watched the videos back, Hall, Xing, and their team noted 36 different flirting behaviours, both verbal and nonverbal. They ranged from giving compliments to leaning forward, but also included revealing personal information and playing with objects. People showed more signs of their flirting style as they became more attracted to their study partner, but not always the obvious signs you might expect.
Polite flirts, in particular, gave off signals including leaning back in their chairs and having a flatter tone in their voice if they were interested. They weren’t trying to play it cool, that was just how their attraction manifested itself – but the researchers couldn’t have gauged their level of interest just by looking at them. And while men who were traditional flirts leaned forward and clearly communicated interest, women who identified as having a traditional flirting style demurely played with their hands and looked down a lot, sending signals that could be easy to overlook.
As Hall puts it, ‘We’re really bad at detecting if people are flirting with us. We’re great at knowing when they’re not interested. But the reason we’re bad at seeing when they are interested is people show it in such a variety of ways.’ No one’s suggesting that saying, ‘Oi, do you fancy me or what?’ is the best way to start a relationship. But it’s definitely worth remembering that your assumptions about what other people’s body language means might not be based in reality.