The most effective expression for flirting involves the head turned to one side and tilted downwards a little, a slight smile and eye contact.
When women use this expression, men are able to recognise it and tell it apart from ordinary polite smiling or a neutral expression.
The expression automatically makes men think about relationships and sex, researchers found.
In general, men can be quite poor at reading facial expressions.
They typically over-interpret polite smiling to express romantic interest, which can lead to misunderstandings.
The conclusion comes from a new study of the most effective expressions for flirting.
Professor Omri Gillath, study co-author, said:
“There are very few scientific articles out there that have systematically studied this well-known phenomenon.
None of these studies have identified the flirting facial expression and tested its effects.”
The researchers carried out a series of six studies, Professor Gillath explained:
“Across our six studies, we found most men were able to recognize a certain female facial expression as representing flirting.
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 expression.”
For the study, women — some of whom were professional actresses — were asked to pose flirting expressions.
One expression emerged as being almost universally recognised by men as a flirting sign:
- Head tilted down and held on one side,
- eyes turned towards the man,
- and a slight smile.
Compared to happy or neutral facial expressions, men subsequently had sex on the mind after seeing this expression.
Professor Gillath said:
“Our findings support the role of flirtatious expression in communication and mating initiation.
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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in The Journal of Sex Research (Haj-Mohamadi et al., 2020).