If you feel like nobody gets it when you're trying to flirt with them, you're right. A trio of researchers at Stanford University recently found that humans are sort of terrible at picking up on flirtatious behavior; a computer program the team designed, on the other hand, is pretty good at it.
Dan Jurafsky, a linguist at Stanford, used some of his previous research on flirting to design the “flirtation-detection system" used in this study: Lots of talking, laughing, and disfluency — a term meaning interrupted flow of speech (read: awkward pauses) or the tendency to repeat a word — tends to give away a flirt. The researchers then listened in on grad students at a speed-dating session, equipping each participant with audio recorders; they ended up with audio from 946 four-minute dates. They also asked each participant to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how flirty they and their dates were during their time together.
The results: Women were okay, able to judge with 62 percent accuracy when a man was flirting with them. Men were worse, accurately guessing that a woman was flirting just 56 percent of the time. The Stanford guys’ flirtation-detection system, in comparison, was able to correctly judge flirting with 71 percent accuracy.
Sometimes science gives us information we can put to immediate use, and this is one of those times. This study found that men who said they were flirting tended to ask more questions; they also laughed more. These guys tended to use certain words more frequently: we and you, for example. They also used more sexual words (love, passion, sex, screw), angry words (hate, hell, stupid, sucks, shit), and negative words (bad, weird, hate, crazy, difficult). They spoke faster and at a higher pitch, but they also spoke more softly than the men who weren’t flirting.
Women who are flirting, on the other hand, have a wider range of pitch to their voices; they tend to speak both higher and lower than women who aren't trying to flirt. Like the guys, they also laugh more, and they also use certain words with higher frequency: I and well, plus more sexual terms. No real surprise there. But flirting women also tend to talk more overall, using more words in general, but fewer of the kinds of words and phrases often deployed to indicate listening: uh-huh, yeah, right, wow, that's true.
So why aren't people very good at picking up on flirting? We believe people are flirting when they aren't, or vice versa, because it's what we want to hear, Jurafsky and colleagues argue; we project our own feelings onto our dates. Keep in mind that these were only four-minute-long dates — surely, given a longer period of time, people get better at recognizing a flirt when they see one, right? Either way, I'd like to borrow that flirt-detecting machine thing, please.
Most Viewed Stories
The Girls Pregnancy Plotline Says More About Us Than It Does About Hannah Horvath
Former Thinx Employee Accuses Miki Agrawal of Sexual Harassment
The President of the United States Had a Big Day of Playing With Trucks
Let’s Not Call Obama Stylish Just Yet
GOP Senator Apologizes After Mocking Breast-Cancer Screening Coverage
Report: Donald and Melania Trump Don’t Sleep in the Same Bed
52 Percent of Men Say They Haven’t Personally Benefited From Women Having Access to Birth Control
Cate Blanchett on the Judgment of Women, Face Mists, and How She’s Moisturized for Over a Decade
Kate Middleton Opens Up About Her Struggles With Motherhood
Why Millennial Pink Refuses to Go Away
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesA Holiday Season Weekend Through London
A good guide for avid The Crown fans.It’s About Time You Learned Tove Lo’s Name
The singer has crafted pop hits you’ve heard a thousand times by now.Marina Abramovic Has Outlasted Her Lovers and, She Hopes, Her Critics
The world's most famous performance artist at 70.The Wing: Do Women Still Need a Space of Their Own?
This exclusive social club for women, is part sorority, part start-up.In Virtual Reality, Women Run the World
A new generation of female artists is making VR the most diverse corner of the male-dominated tech space.The Novelist Disguised As a Housewife
Shirley Jackson wrote 17 books while raising four children — and she couldn't have had a successful career without them.Ava DuVernay on Hollywood Racism, Modern-Day Slavery, and Why She’s Still an Optimist
The director, whose new documentary The 13th chronicles America’s history of racial subjugation, talks to Rebecca Traister about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the modern criminal-justice system.What No One Tells Couples Trying to Conceive
It helps to be rich.The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.Slut-Shaming Squids Are Everywhere
The “Bermuda Square” comic strip is back.
The collaboration that dreams are made of.Good Morning America Host Amy Robach Apologizes for Saying ‘Colored People’ on Air
She quickly apologized.Unknown NFL Player Tries to Get Attention by Asking Aly Raisman Out in Video
That’s one way to do it.Don’t Mess This Up, Mischa Barton
Marissa Cooper is poised for a comeback ... maybe.California Votes to Remove Time Limit on Prosecuting Rape Cases
In light of the Bill Cosby case.Beyoncé’s Behind-the-Scenes Lemonade Photos Belong in a Museum
She had the "Boycott Beyoncé" sign already in formation on set.The Rise of the Male Celebrity Full-Frontal
An ex-publicist explains.Gabby Douglas Will Be a Miss America Judge
The gold-medal gymnast will help choose the 2017 pageant winner.Camille Becerra’s Photo Diary of Rockaway Beach
An ideal trip to add and cross off your summer bucket list.Sorry Nerds, Ian McKellen Won’t Officiate Your Expensive Lord of the Rings–Themed Wedding
Not even for $1.5 million.