In earlier posts, I have discussed how to flirt and be attractive in general, and I have shared research on how to get a guy’s (or gal’s) attention. Yet I still get emails from women asking how to let a guy know they are interested — and get him to approach them. I also get emails from men who want tips, beyond basic body language cues, that help them know a woman is really interested in them.
As usual, I dug into the research literature. As it turns out, a few pioneering researchers have covertly watched women flirting, in bars and on campuses, to answer these very questions. Through their observations, they have found a number of nonverbal behaviors and body language cues that women use to signal their potential interest to men, and motivate men to approach them, too.
Nonverbal Courtship Patterns in Women
The first study I reviewed came from Moore (1985), who performed an observational study of women flirting in bars and on a college campus. Specifically, Moore had two trained observers covertly watch more than 200 single women in those locations for about 30 minutes each, and record the women’s “nonverbal solicitation signals.” Further, the researchers defined these solicitation signals as “a movement of body part(s) or whole body that resulted in male attention, operationally defined, within 15 seconds following the behavior” (Moore, 1985). Male attention was further defined as a man approaching the woman, talking to her, asking her to dance, or even (in a few instances) kissing her.
From those observations, Moore (1985) identified 52 nonverbal behaviors that women use to signal their potential interest in a man. Of those, some of the most frequently performed behaviors by women were:
Beyond those flirting behaviors, once a man approached, women also touched in a number of ways to show interest as well. Often, they caressed an object, or the man’s face, arm, leg, or back. Or, the woman might position herself so her knee, thigh, or foot were touching the man to show interest. In some instances, a woman might even initiate a hug or hang off a man.
A follow-up study by Moore and Butler (1989) evaluated some of these behaviors more thoroughly. In this case, the researchers were interested in finding out which of these flirting and “solicitation” behaviors actually worked to get men to approach. The team again camped out in bars — this time observing the differences in behavior between single women who were approached by a man versus women who did not get approached.
The results of their observations showed some significant behavioral differences between women who were approached and those who were not. Particularly, women who were approached often smiled at men, danced by themselves, nodded at men, leaned toward them, or tilted their head (neck presentation) — while women who did not get approached performed none of those behaviors. Further, women who were approached were more likely to also look around the room, flip their hair, toss their head, and fixate their glance on a specific man.
Beyond those behavioral differences, Moore and Butler (1989) evaluated the general attractiveness of the women observed. On average, there was no difference in attractiveness between women who were approached and those who were not. Therefore, the men approaching the women was as a result of the women’s behavioral differences — not their looks. In fact, according to the analysis, an unattractive woman who displayed a lot of solicitation behaviors was more likely to be approached by men than an attractive woman who did not display solicitation behaviors.
Flirting (and Being Flirted With…)
The studies here basically align with previous research I have reviewed on flirting and body language. Given that, the best way for a woman to signal her interest in a man is to look at him and smile, while having open and relaxed body language. More specifically, in the studies above, the women who were approached by men were having fun, dancing, smiling, and looking around. In short, they looked approachable and interested.
If you are a woman and seek interest from a man, start by looking interested in him. Catch his eye by looking around the room, dancing, moving closer, or flipping your hair. When you get his attention, look at him and smile. As he approaches, show that you are receptive by nodding or tilting your head.
Once a man approaches, flirting becomes more about leaning in close, laughing, and touching. In fact, touching is very attractive and persuasive; even accidental touching can lead to intimacy. So caress your glass, find an excuse to slide into the seat next to him, and get better acquainted.
If you are a man wondering whether a woman is interested, look for the behaviors above. If a woman is looking around and flipping her hair, pay attention. If she makes eye contact and smiles at you, break the ice and start a conversation. If she likes what you have to say and touches you, then it may be time to ask her out.
Learning about these flirting behaviors helps both women and men get to know each other better. If you are a woman, use them to send clear signals — and the men you like may be more likely to say hello. If you are a man, look for those flirting signals — and your own approach may be more likely to get a warm reception.
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© 2017 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Moore, M. (1985). Nonverbal courtship patterns in women: Context and consequences. Ethology and Sociobiology, 6, 237-247.
Moore, M., & Butler, D. (1989). Predictive aspects of nonverbal courtship behavior in women. Semiotica, 3, 205-215.