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The Psychology of the Pickup Artist

Research casts new light on the strategies employed by cads.

Source: Kzenon/Shutterstock

Earlier this month, Australia canceled the visa of controversial self-styled "pickup artist" Julien Blanc. Blanc espouses sexist views and advocates grabbing women around the neck and aggressively forcing their heads toward his crotch in an attempt to seduce them. He has been widely criticized and publicly rebuked for his misogynistic views, and campaigns to bar him from entering Japan and the UK are gaining momentum. Blanc’s website tells would-be followers that he can help “make girls beg to sleep with you after short-circuiting their emotional and logical mind into a million reasons why they should.”

A “pickup artist” is a person who practices finding, attracting, and seducing sexual partners, and often promotes his skills in workshops for audiences of young heterosexual men. Some of these individuals suggest, as Blanc does, that they use techniques that subvert a target’s autonomy.

There is nothing unusual, of course, about thinking of ways to win over a romantic interest. However, pickup artists can be differentiated from the bulk of the population in that they turn this normal human activity into a game—and aim to distill it down to an art form that can be improved through knowledge and rehearsal, often with a clear end-point.

There is no hard data on the prevalence of such advice or dating services in Australia or the United States. However, anecdotally, there appears to have been an increase in these services over the past decade. Neil Strauss’ 2005 book, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, made a month-long appearance on the New York Times bestseller list and was Number One on soon after its release in the United States.

The Game, along with other volumes by figures within the movement, has put forth a jargon associated with seducing women. For example, the “seven-hour rule," which dictates that an average of seven hours should be spent with a woman before reaching "full close," their term for sexual intercourse. “Negging” refers to giving a woman a backhanded compliment; “pawning” is the use of a woman to show one's social value to other women; and "going caveman” refers to the strategy of minimizing conversation and maximizing physical contact in an encounter.

It's limited in scope, but there is some scientific literature reviewing the psychological underpinnings of these strategies.

Oesch and Miklousic1 examined the books by and about pickup artists such as Erik "Mystery" von Markovic's The Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women into Bed and Strauss' Rules of the Game, summarizing the available evidence in the process.

Von Markovic promotes a three-phase model of human courtship—attraction; building mutual comfort and trust; and seduction.

  • Attraction can be associated with a desire to initiate contact or establish physical intimacy with another person. Pickup artists deploy “conversation starters,” usually an audacious statement expressing romantic interest, in an attempt to gain attraction. This approach is supported by evidence that demonstrations of social dominance and risk-taking—exemplified by this tactic of approaching and complimenting a stranger—are considered attractive.1 They may also use “pawning,” which is akin to mate copying.
  • Comfort and trust are proxy markers for emotional responsiveness to the needs of others. This emotional responsiveness has been shown to be critical for both establishing and maintaining a relationship. A number of studies outline the importance of honesty, niceness, and agreeableness in establishing courtship. Evidence suggests that trust can further be established through selective use of touch.1 Pickup artists teach progressive touching, referred to as kino escalation, to achieve (and fast-track) intimacy.
  • Seduction can occur after attraction, comfort, and trust have been established. Some pickup artists advocate the seven-hour rule, referenced above, and may use techniques such as sharing information about themselves and seeking information about their target, with the topics they discuss becoming progressively more personal and intimate. This allows the pickup artist to get to know their target on a deeper level, and approach supported by evidence that mutual self-disclosure can assist in the development of relationships.1 Over a period of hours, with other techniques employed as described, this may lead to seduction.

Oesch and Miklousic, in their paper, go on to analyze the theoretical underpinnings of other teachings of pickup artists, concluding that a considerable body of psychological research supports some of their techniques.

But evidence that some teachings of pickup artists are grounded in theory does not negate the callous and objectionable nature of the field.

Generally speaking, pickup artists prey not only on their female targets, but on the insecure men who are their clients as well—charging them exorbitant fees for workshops and inculcating elementary quasi-psychological tricks. These men, once "trained," may then prey on other unsuspecting women, in some cases utilizing their newly acquired tricks to attempt to exploit women to accede to their sexual desires.

There is nothing wrong with individuals developing strategies to increase their personal confidence in talking to a romantic interest. However, treating that potential partner as an object representing psychological barriers to conquer is a deviant approach.

Maybe we (the authors) are outdated and irrelevant, but we would suggest that it may be more worthwhile to attempt to meet your future partner through old-fashioned sartorial flair, chivalry, genuine interest, and respect.


1 Oesch N, Miklousic I. The dating mind: evolutionary psychology and the emerging science of human courtship. Evolutionary psychology: An international journal of evolutionary approaches to psychology and behavior. 2012;10(5):899-909.