How to Tell If Someone Is Flirting With You, According to Science

How to Tell If Someone Is Flirting With You, According to Science
Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock

Back in the day when we actually used to interact with other people in real life, it wasn’t always clear whether someone was being friendly, wanted something from you, or was actually flirting. After several months in isolation, we’ve probably not gotten any better at this. If you’re someone who likes to rely on data to navigate your personal relationships, then you may be interested in the findings of a recent study that pinpointed three facial expressions most commonly used when flirting. Here’s what you need to know.

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The faces of flirting

The study, published in the Journal of Sex Research, involved coding then analysing a variety of facial expressions to determine which were most commonly perceived as flirting. Though the researchers’ focus was on how men pick up on flirting from women, the findings could make sense in other contexts as well.

“For the first time, not only were we able to isolate and identify the expressions that represent flirting, but we were also able to reveal their function: to activate associations related with relationships and sex,” Omri Gillath, PhD, professor of psychology at KU, who co-wrote the paper alongside Cornell University lecturer Parnia Haj-Mohamadi, PhD, and Erika Rosenberg, PhD, of the University of California-Davis told Cosmopolitan.

So without further ado, these facial expressions are:

  • A head turned to one side and titled down slightly

  • A slight smile

  • Eyes turned forward turned the implied target

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“Across our six studies, we found most men were able to recognise a certain female facial expression as representing flirting,” Gillath explained. “It has a unique morphology, and it’s different from expressions that have similar features — for example, smiling — but aren’t identified by men as flirting expressions.”

Will we ever get to the point of being able to test these findings out with other humans face-to-face? Who knows! Do these apply in a Zoom context too? Maybe? But if you do find yourself on a Zoom or FaceTime date, here are some tips for making it a success.

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