No One Gets Your Sad Attempts at Flirting

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Photo: New Line Cinema

A coy smile, some strategic arm-touching, a bit of eyelash-batting — you’re deploying all your best flirty weapons, and your target is just not getting it. But it's (probably) not anything you’re doing wrong. People — both men and women — are just not very good at recognizing flirty behavior, new research shows.

The study paired up 52 college women and 52 college men, sat them in a room, and told them to talk for ten minutes. Afterward, the participants were each asked (separately) whether they’d flirted a little with their conversational partner, and whether they thought their partner had flirted. Both men and women were very good at judging when someone was not flirting; more than 80 percent of the pairs could correctly sense a just-friends situation, the researchers found. But they were less accurate at recognizing when someone was flirting; men only answered correctly 36 percent of the time, and women judged accurately 18 percent of the time.

Lead researcher Jeffrey Hall, of the University of Kansas, explained why people are so bad at this in the study's press release:

Students’ difficulty in detecting flirts could be the same reason humans have trouble spotting a liar, Hall said. The assumption is most people are telling the truth because most people do. And, of those who don’t, it’s only a small group doing the majority of the lying.

The same is true for flirting.

“Most people on most days are not flirting with everyone they come in contact with,” Hall said. “But, some people are occasionally flirting, and maybe a few people are flirting a lot.”

Oh, and here’s a great detail from this study: In one of the pairs, both the man and woman said they were flirting, but neither one picked up on it. So, to recap: They meet-cute during a psych experiment about flirting. Sparks fly. He likes her, and she likes him, but neither of them thinks the other is into it. I’m hearing rom-com, no?