New Study Explores Expressions that Represent Flirting and Its Effect on Men
Thu, October 21, 2021

New Study Explores Expressions that Represent Flirting and Its Effect on Men


Flirting, with no evil intent, is an important social process that redistributes self-esteem and confidence. However, humans are really bad at detecting flirting. Previous studies on nonverbal signs of romantic interest even show that a few subtle clues that someone may be flirting and not just being friendly are that they make prolonged eye contact, they direct many brief glances, they tease you, or give you awkward compliments, and they have an open body language.

Facial Action Coding System (FACS)

A new study conducted by Parnia Haj-Mohamadi from the Department of Psychology, University of Kansas and team focused on facial expressions. They wanted to know if flirting has certain facial cue that may be effectively used by women to indicate their interest in a man. For a start, the authors used the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), which taxonomize human facial movements by their appearance on the face, to determine the morphology of flirtatious facial expressions. They found that the most effective flirting facial cues include a head turned to one side and tilted down slightly, eyes turned forward toward the target, and a slight smile.

They also discovered that internal states, like being romantically or sexually interested in someone, can be conveyed to other people nonverbally through facial expression. In short, flirting works.

After knowing these expressions of flirting, the team then apply their findings in experimental studies. Women– some volunteers from the community and some professional actresses - were asked to follow instructions based on what anthropological literature has considered as flirting or to spontaneously pose a flirting expression. Results show that women are more effective in conveying a flirtatious facial cue. The researchers also found that beyond individual differences, there were some expressions identified by most men as flirting.

Co-author Omri Gillath, professor of psychology at KU, told that they were able not just to isolate and determine the expressions that represent flirting but were also able to know their function. That is, to activate associates linked with relationships and sex. Their findings also support the role of flirtatious expression in mating initiation and communication.

The authors put flirting in a similar category with other well-studied emotions. Their findings may also give the sometimes-clueless men a more concrete way to find out if a woman is truly flirting with them or just being friendly and can furthermore serve as a tool for other researchers to study the functions of flirting.

Accurately detecting flirting

In 2014, a Jeffrey Hall, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, also conducted a study to see how often pairs of strangers correctly determine when the other was flirting. Hall said that if you think someone is not interested in you, you are probably right. But if someone is, there’s a possibility you will miss it.

Hall’s study brought together 52 pairs of heterosexuals, single college students. The pairs of strangers sat alone in a room and talked for 10 to 12 minutes. These strangers think that they were involved in a study on first impressions but at the end of the study, the participants were asked to fill out the questionnaires. They had to note if they flirted or if they thought the other person flirted with them.

Although the pairs were more than 80% correct in knowing that the other person was not flirting with them, they were less accurate in knowing if they were being flirted with. Only 18% of women and 36% of men judged correctly. Flirtatious behavior is hard to see, Hall shared. This is because people are not going to do it in obvious ways as they don’t want to be embarrassed. Flirting can also look like being friendly and we are not accustomed to having such behavior validated.

Sarah Hunter Murray Ph.D., who has dedicated a decade of her academic and professional career to understanding the complexities and nuances of sexual desire, wrote that most research on flirting focused on the dating context. There were studies on gender differences in flirting, flirting motivations, and different flirting styles. However, what surprised her was that there was not much focus on what flirting looks like in a long-term relationship and marriage. Flirting may look different in marriage but it serves an important function, she said. Murray is not involved in the University of Kansas study.

In her study, she explained that flirting in marriage maintains the level of intimacy between the couple. It was considered to be a secret or private language that only the couple were privy to. Flirting in marriage is also a way to reduce fights and tension.



Marriage rates

In many countries, including South Korea, marriages are becoming less common. The number of marriages in each year per 1,000 people in population stood at 7.00 in 2000 and gradually decline over the years as follows: 2001 (6.70), 2002 (6.30), 2005 (6.50), 2008 (6.60), 2012 (6.50), 2014 (6.00), 2016 (5.50), and 2017 (5.20). In 1990, the average age of women at marriage was 24.80 years but has increased to 30.20 years in 2017. This is according to Our World in Data.



Emojis: The new way to flirt

Over the years, cyberspace has become a platform for the development of more specialized dating agencies. Commercial dating platforms, including, has even evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry. These dating apps and sites have transformed the way people develop relationships. Prospective partners engage in cyber-flirting, where they spend more time getting to know the other person first before deciding to go to the next level.

DrEd, an online doctor service, looked at tweets in Europe and the US and analyze the most-used emojis with sexual or romantic suggestions. The smiling face with heart-shaped eyes claimed the top spot with 2,031,106 mentions in the US from July 1 to August 16, 2015, alone. The second most suggestive emoji is the face throwing a kiss with 759,827 mentions. Other emojis include the smiling cat face with heart-shaped eyes (203,385), kiss mark (157,604), aubergine (21, 383), couple kiss (19,780), couple with heart (16,530), and banana (11,266).

Fascination with courtship techniques, interest in flirting, and the effective ways of attracting and retaining romantic partners will not wane. This is why social scientists will continue to conduct studies on it to know the demand for detailed information about this subject.