Male flirting goes largely unnoticed

Last updated 10:46 25/06/2014

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If you've ever found it difficult to tell if someone is flirting with you, you're not alone. In fact, you are far from being alone - new research shows the vast majority of people have no idea when they're being flirted with.

"If you think someone is not interested in you, you are probably right, they are not interested," says Jeffery Hall, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas. "But if someone is, you probably missed it."

That's what his latest research seems to show, anyway.

Hall, who wrote The Five Flirting Styles, conducted two studies to see if pairs of strangers could pick when the other person was flirting.

The first study involved 52 pairs of heterosexual university students, who were asked to talk to each other for 10 to 12 minutes.

The students then filled out a questionnaire, noting whether they flirted and if they thought their partner had.

The researchers found 80 per cent of students could accurately pick that their partner wasn't flirting, but found the students were much worse at knowing if they were being flirted with.

While only 36 per cent of males correctly guessed they were being flirted with, a mere 18 per cent of women got it right.

Hall says this is because flirtatious behaviour is hard to see, for several reasons.

"People aren't going to do it in obvious ways because they don't want to be embarrassed, flirting looks a lot like being friendly, and we are not accustomed to having our flirting validated so we can get better at seeing it."

In the second study, more than 250 people watched short clips of individual people from the first study, and were asked to guess whether or not the students were flirting.

The results were similar: 66 per cent of people accurately guessed when the students weren't flirting, and only 38 per cent correctly guessed when people were.

Interestingly the lowest rate of accuracy was when women had to guess if men were flirting, while both men and women found it easier to pick if a woman was being a flirt.

Hall says it basically shows women are more transparent when it comes to flirting than men.

"It does seem that women are just a little more clear if they are interested or not," Hall said.

The associate professor says the trouble with flirting is most people don't flirt all the time.

"Most people on most days are not flirting with everyone they come in contact with. 

"But, some people are occasionally flirting, and maybe a few people are flirting a lot."

So because we know people aren't always flirting, it's normal to expect most people aren't.

"You just don't assume everyone is flirting with you," Hall says.

He says context is an important clue to figuring out if someone is flirting with you - if you are in a bar, chances are the guy talking to you isn't really interested about where you bought your handbag.

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This study also poignantly highlighted the amount of missed opportunities that occur when flirting goes unnoticed.

One pair in the first study both admitted to flirting with the other, but Hall says neither of them realised the other person was flirting back.

- Sydney Morning Herald


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