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The Science of Pick-Up Lines

Research reveals that the right line can interest just who you're looking for.

Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock
Source: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

Welcome back to The Attraction Doctor.

In previous posts, I've discussed who might find pick-up techniques appealing or off-putting, and even spoken with a pick-up artist (PUA) about his views. More generally, I've shared how men attract women by displaying unique features or making an impression with their personality. I've even explained how men successfully flirt and ask a woman out.

Now, I'd like to share some of the science behind pick-up lines. As it turns out, these funny, corny, and even cliche lines are sometimes quite effective—but not every pick-up line will be appealing, and different lines may impress or attract different women. Therefore, the line a man chooses—if any—may tell a woman a lot about him, and influence his success in asking her for a date.

Researching the Best and Worst

Pick-up lines were first scientifically evaluated by Bale, Morrison, and Caryl (2006). These researchers collected 40 lines from various movie, TV, book, and internet sources. They then asked both male and female participants to rate the effectiveness of each line for beginning a conversation with a woman. The participants responses indicated that pick-up lines highlighting a man's athleticism, culture, wealth, and generosity would most likely lead to further conversation, while those that were simply empty compliments, or overtly sexual, were judged to be the least effective.

This line of research was further explored by Cooper and associates (Cooper, O'Donnell, Caryl, Morrison, & Bale, 2007). These researchers used the same pick-up lines and again asked male and female participants to rate them. This time, however, they gave personality tests to the participants too.

The initial results supported those found by Bale, et al. (2006) above. Generally, pick-up lines that showed off some aspect of a man's positive attributes or value as a mate were seen as most effective. These lines were especially appealing to women who were self-conscious, shy, or anxious, and looking for a friendly and considerate man. In contrast, women who were more outgoing and energetic preferred humorous and direct lines from men, as they desired leadership characteristics in a mate. Finally, women whose personality tests revealed them to be aggressive, impulsive, or risk-takers tended to like a "bad boy" type—and they preferred lines featuring generic compliments as well as overtly sexual lines.

Therefore, the authors concluded, pick-up lines serve as an advertisement, filter, and screening device. The type of line a man chooses says something about his personality and attributes. Similarly, whether a woman finds a particular type of line appealing says something about her personality and attributes as well.

How to Use Pick-Up Lines

Given the research, when in doubt, it will usually benefit a man who chooses to use a pick-up line to try one that highlights something about his value as a mate—his athleticism, culture, wealth, or generosity. This will immediately allow him to highlight his uniquely attractive features and his personality. It will help the woman begin to see why he may be appealing, especially if she is shy or nervous herself. Follow-up conversation, of course, can help to build more of a connection, leading to asking the woman out in a more comfortable, indirect manner.

Guys who like to take the lead and who seek to meet more outgoing women, on the other hand, may benefit from adding a bit of humor to their lines, and in general, being more direct. The type of woman they desire may appreciate someone who breaks the ice more overtly and asks for what he wants directly. Such boldness will signal his confidence and leadership. Although it may turn some women off, it will be more likely to pique the interest of extroverted women, especially when the man is persuasive, too.

Finally, men looking for short-term flings with adventurous women will likely employ a more overtly sexual line; in this situation, it's a tactic that seems to interest risk-taking women, while turning off almost everyone else. (Other research on pick-up techniques confirms that bold and sexual behavior that appears sexy to these types of women comes off as insulting to others.

Given the research, it appears that pick-up lines can attract women, impress them, and launch a conversation. (Further research on the success of lines deployed by women would be valuable as well.) Therefore, it pays to know what type of partner you are after when you use a particular type of line—or when you respond to one.

For more dating and relationship advice, visit and follow my Facebook page.

© 2014 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.


Bale, C., Morrison, R., & Caryl, P. G. (2006). Chat-up lines as male sexual displays. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 655-664.

Cooper, M., O'Donnell, D., Caryl, P. G., Morrison, R., & Bale, C. (2007). Chat-up lines as male displays: Effects of content, sex, and personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 1075-1085.

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