36% of Men, 18% of Women Actually Know When They’re Being Flirted With

Hayley Matthews
Hayley Matthews Updated:
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Flirting is an art form and often an underappreciated one.

However, new research suggests there might be a simple reason for this – most people simply aren’t very skilled at spotting it.

Researchers from the University of Kansas found only 36 percent of men and 18 percent of women can correctly guess when someone is flirting with them.

Gathering the results

Fifty-two pairs of straight, single college students were recruited for the study, each sitting alone for about 10 minutes for what they believed was a study on first impressions.

Questionnaires afterward tracked their reactions, including whether they believed they’d been flirted with or had done any flirting themselves.

When a subject thought they weren’t being flirted with, it usually it proved to be true. However, according to study lead author and KU associate professor of communication studies Jeffrey Hall, the actual flirting often went entirely undetected.

Eighty percent of the time not being flirted with was accurately pinpointed. Yet only one in three men and one in five women correctly spotted the actual flirtations aimed in their direction.

“Behavior that is flirtatious is hard to see, and there are several reason for that,” Hall said. “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.”

“It does seem that women are just a little

more clear if they are interested or not,” Hall said.

What a follow-up study found

More than 200 people watched several short videos of the earlier couples interacting, though they could only see one participant at a time.

At 38 percent, these observers proved only slightly better at spotting real flirting.

Again in the second study, women were found least accurate, only identifying male flirtation 22 percent of the time.

Jeffrey Hall

Jeffrey Hall
The University of Kansas

Female flirtations were the easiest to spot, which Hall speculates might be related to women being more transparent than men.

“It doesn’t appear to be the case that men have some intuition about women and women have some intuition about men,” he said. “But it does seem that women are just a little more clear if they are interested or not.”

Published in Communication Research, the study is titled “Accurately Detecting Flirting: Error Management Theory, the Traditional Sex Script and Flirting Base Rate.”

Photo sources: ku.edu, fame-magazine.com