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Signs That Someone Is Nervous Around You Because They Like You

Research reveals when attraction creates anxiety.

Key points

  • Nervous reactions can actually enhance the chances of attaining the mate of one’s choice.
  • People pick up nervous reactions of others in order to gauge interpersonal attraction.
  • Nervous reactions signaling interpersonal attraction include positive affect such as smiling and laughing.
Dragon Images/Shutterstock
Source: Dragon Images/Shutterstock

Have you ever noticed someone become tongue-tied when they interact with you? Or start fiddling with their hair or clothing when you are speaking? Some people are naturally more prone to nervousness or otherwise predisposed to worry, but others might be uniquely nervous around you.

If someone’s demeanor switches from self-confident to self-conscious when you enter a room, it might be time to take it personally. And when nervous behavior is paired with positive emotion, you may have identified an important clue.

Attraction and Anxiety

Many of us learned in grade school that we are nervous around people we like. From the classroom to the boardroom to the bedroom, we don’t grow out of it. Research reveals the impact of attraction across the lifespan, and in particular, how nervous behavior indicates attraction.

Susan M. Hughes et al. (2020) found that people use observations of nervous reactions to assess attraction.[i] They studied nervous behaviors displayed in response to interpersonal attraction, using a community sample of 280 people consisting of 165 women and 115 men, ranging in age from 18 to 73 years old, with a mean age of 29.

They measured physiological, vocal, and behavioral reactions displayed upon initially interacting with a particularly attractive potential romantic partner. The sensations participants reported most frequently included staring, heart rate, increased attentiveness, smiling, laughing, blushing, and having trouble concentrating. Both men and women reported speaking faster but with less ability for clear expression. Women reported speaking with a higher pitch and an unsteady tone of voice. Viewing this behavior from the opposite perspective, study participants observed similar nervous reactions by people they perceived found them attractive.

What is the explanation? Hughes et al. cite Darwin (1872) in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, “When lovers meet, we know that their hearts beat quickly, their breathing is hurried, and their faces flush; for this love is not inactive.” Yet speaking of evolution, because most people recognize that compatibility involves comfort, how does nervousness nurture relationships?

Anxiety and Reciprocity

Hughes et al. note that, while at first blush, nervous reactions might appear maladaptive, they can actually enhance the chances of attaining the mate of one’s choice. This might be particularly true given that nervous reactions include positive affect such as smiling and laughing. Hughes et al. point out that although we might think that nervous reactions could create an impression of being awkward, clumsy, or uncomfortable, such responses could be evidence of romantic interest and trigger reciprocity.

Hughes et al. found that nervousness was more evident when there was a perception of mutual attraction, compared with scenarios when a participant felt another person was attracted to them but did not reciprocate the feelings. They explain that when only one person is nervous, it might indicate a mismatch in mate value, which is important because people generally desire mates with equivalent social desirability.

Overall, Hughes et al. conclude that we use our observations of nervous reactions to assess whether others are attracted to us, and are in good company. Because we recognize relationship potential through reciprocity, we are ready to assess potential romantic partners who demonstrate similar behaviors.

So in the throes of nervous attraction, smile, laugh, and be ready to consider new relationships.

Facebook image: Dragon Images/Shutterstock


[i] Hughes, Susan M., Marissa A. Harrison, and Kathleen M. de Haan. 2020. “Perceived Nervous Reactions during Initial Attraction and Their Potential Adaptive Value.” Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology 6 (1): 30–56. doi:10.1007/s40750-019-00127-y.