Here's Why You Suck At Knowing When Someone Is Flirting With You

You think you've got game. But when you try to chat someone up at the bar, you just can't tell if they're into you. Sound familiar? You're not alone.

According to new research from the University of Kansas, we are lousy at being able to tell when someone's flirting with us.

“If you think someone is not interested in you, you are probably right, they are not interested,” Dr. Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communications studies at the university and author of The Five Flirting Styles, said in a written statement. “But if someone is, you probably missed it.”

Hall played matchmaker with 52 pairs of single, heterosexual men and women. He recorded each couple talking for about 10 minutes, and then had them fill out questionnaires about their first impressions of their partners -- which included questions about whether they had flirted during the conversation, and whether they thought their partners had flirted.

What did Hall find? The students were good at figuring out when their partners were not flirting -- they got this right around 80 percent of the time. But when it came to detecting when their partners actually were flirting, men got it right around 36 percent of the time. Women picked out the flirters around 18 percent of the time.

Perhaps the most tragic result of the experiment was a missed connection, as described by New York Magazine's "The Science Of Us:"

In one of the pairs, both the man and woman said they were flirting, but neither one picked up on it. So, to recap: They meet-cute during a psych experiment about flirting. Sparks fly. He likes her, and she likes him, but neither of them thinks the other is into it. I’m hearing rom-com, no?

Hall also found that observers weren't much better than the couples at figuring out flirting. When 250 people watched short clips of the conversations, they were accurate at identifying "non-flirting" around 66 percent of the time. They detected flirting only around 38 percent of the time. Worst of all, female observers could spot the men flirting only around 22 percent of the time. (Ladies, maybe it's time to get a clue. Men, maybe it's time to be a little more obvious about your intentions.)

Why are we so bad at picking up on the signs?

“You just don’t assume everyone is flirting with you,” Hall said in the statement. “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.”

If you want to be a better flirt detector, think about the context you're in and be more open to the possibility someone might be flirting with you, he said.

“If you are missing out that people are flirting with you at a place where people go to flirt, then that’s on you."


The study was published online on May 25 in the journal Communication Research.



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