- People often send mixed signals, it can be difficult to know whether they are interested in you or not.
- In general, interested folks are more likely to keep conversations going, pay attention, get close, and touch.
- In contrast, disinterested individuals end conversations, ignore you, move away, and avoid touching.
It can be difficult to tell whether someone is interested in you, in everyday contexts and potential dating situations. That is often because, out of politeness, no one wants to seem rude or rejecting. Also, no one wants to look too interested, either—and possibly face rejection themselves. So, we are often left with other people sending us vague cues and mixed signals to decipher ourselves.
Fortunately though, quite a while ago, researchers Fichten, Tagalakis, Judd, Wright, and Amsel (1992) sought to figure out this mixed-signal mystery. They interviewed men and women, asking about their verbal and nonverbal behavior in everyday conversations and dating contexts. Specifically, they wanted to know how participants reacted when they were interested in a conversation or dating partner versus how they reacted when they were bored or disinterested.
Verbal Cues: Conversation
According to Fichten, Tagalakis, Judd, Wright, and Amsel (1992), individuals show interest at the daily conversation level by giving open-ended responses, talking about personal topics, and agreeing/disagreeing with their conversation partner. To show greater interest, they add more to the conversation and ask detailed, open-ended, and personal questions. In dating contexts, to distinguish romantic interest, they are more likely to compliment the other person, compare interests, make jokes, and ask for a phone number or other contact information.
In contrast, the results indicated that individuals show boredom and disinterest in daily conversation by changing the subject, making superficial talk, or verbalizing their boredom. To more clearly signal their disinterest, they lie or make excuses, give closed-ended answers, and end the conversation. In a dating context, they communicate romantic disinterest by disagreeing with their conversation partner, refusing invitations, and stating that they already have a romantic partner.
Taken together, the findings show a clear conversation pattern. When someone is interested in you, to some capacity, they keep the conversation going. When they are disinterested, they find a way to disengage and end it instead. Furthermore, in a dating context, they will be more likely to add in compliments, compare interests, joke, and ask for a phone number to show interest—or shut things down by saying they have a partner, showing disagreement, and refusing invitations.
However, conversation cues alone can be vague. It can be easy to overestimate romantic interest from friendly conversation. Thus, while someone continuing a conversation (or even complimenting you and asking for your number) is a positive sign, we need to look at other cues for more information about their interests and intentions.
Nonverbal Cues: Body Language and Touch
Fichten and associates (1992) found that people also show interest through nonverbal communication, particularly body language and touch. According to their research, individuals show interest in general interactions by making eye contact, looking at the other person, smiling, moving closer, and socially touching them at times. In a dating context, they may look the person over (e.g., up and down) more intensely and touch more romantically, too (e.g., put their arm around the other person or kiss them).
The team found that people show boredom and disinterest through nonverbal cues as well. In contrast to the above behaviors, disinterested people tend to slouch, move away, yawn, look away, turn away, fidget, or just generally look bored. To be clear about romantic disinterest, they may stay away from the other person and avoid them entirely. Beyond that, bored and disinterested people do not touch the other person.
We can see a clear pattern in the results here as well. As a person's interest grows, they make more eye contact, get closer, and touch more. In contrast, if they are disinterested, they look away, move away, and avoid touching altogether. This dynamic agrees with other positive versus negative body language cues that I have discussed in other posts. Beyond that, looking at the escalation of touching and whether the other person is getting close are important clues here, too. The closer they get and the more intensely they touch, the more information you have to believe that they are interested in you.
Other Cues: General Attention
Finally, the research found some additional cues signaling interest or disinterest, generally centering on attention. Fichten and associates (1992) noted that when someone is interested in a conversation partner, they ignore distractions, pay attention to them, and try to be empathetic. If they are romantically interested, they are even more attentive—by hanging around, doing courteous things, and flirting more directly.
In contrast, if someone is disinterested, they are not attentive. They may distract themselves, hang up, ignore, or avoid the person instead. To show romantic disinterest, they fail to do courteous things or even become unfriendly altogether.
This is why, as I have discussed in my book Attraction Psychology and elsewhere, positive attention and gratitude are important romantic indicators. Also, as a flip side, punishment and insults are a bad sign in interactions. Essentially, if someone is giving you positive attention, then they are more likely to be interested in you. If they are ignoring you or being rude, move on to someone else.
Unless they tell you outright, it is difficult to be certain as to whether someone likes you. Nevertheless, the results above give us some cues and clues to figure things out. The more they keep the conversation going, get close, touch, and pay attention to you, the more likely it is that they are interested in you. From there, the only way to be sure is to ask them out directly. In contrast, if they cut off conversation, move away, avoid touching, and ignore you, then they are not interested. In that case, let go of the unrequited feelings and move on to someone giving you the right signals instead.
© 2024 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Fichten, C. S., Tagalakis, V., Judd, D., Wright, J., & Amsel, R. (1992). Verbal and nonverbal communication cues in daily conversations and dating. The Journal of Social Psychology, 132(6), 751–769.