The best way to flirt, according to science

We could all use a primer about now.

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It's Always Cuffing Season

At many points during my solo quarantine, I legitimately wondered if I had forgotten how to flirt. Being comfortable flirting without making other people uncomfortable seems even more important now that we are skittishly re-entering the world to various degrees. While experts have assured me repeatedly that you never actually lose your game, what if you never had any to start with? Well, have no fear because science has unlocked the secret of flirting.

Flirting may seem like kind of a fluffy topic, but it’s totally not. The study was published this morning in Evolutionary Psychology, a psychological journal totally dedicated to understanding how humans persevere and continue the species. Which is all to say that the stakes of flirting are the survival of the human race. No presh. But I digress.

The research was conducted on 1,000 volunteers in Norway and the U.S.. Participants rated 40 different kinds of flirting on how effective they were in attracting them to a person for a long- or short-term relationship. Scientists controlled for religion, age, extroversion, how willing the person was to have a relationship, and how attractive a person seems in the dating market. What researchers found was that, while culturally we think that a person’s flirting success is probably due to how perfectly they meet cultural beauty standards, that was totally not the case.

“Individual differences in age, religiosity, extroversion, personal attractiveness and preferences for short-term sexual relationships had little or no effect on how effective respondents considered the various flirting tactics to be,” Mons Bendixen, a professor of psychology at Norwegian University of Science and Technology and co-author on the study, told EurekAlert. In other words, effective flirting has no apparent relationship to attractiveness, clinically speaking.

What is it, then, that makes flirting effective? Humor. “People think that humour, or being able to make another person laugh, is most effective for men who are looking for a long-term relationship. It’s least effective for women who are looking for a one-night stand. But laughing or giggling at the other person's jokes is an effective flirtation tactic for both sexes,” Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, a professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and co-author of the study, told EurekAlert.

Let’s just set aside the absurdly archaic gender binary that scientists use and the fact that this study only looked at cis het people for a moment. I am actually really mad about that, but what this study is telling us is that when it comes to flirting, humor is what works best between cis-hets, and since cis-hets dominate dating culture, it may also be true for the rest of us. That is conjecture, but the study did find that humor was a successful flirting tool across U.S. and Norwegian cultures.

But what if you’re not funny? Are you doomed to strike out? Relax, bb, you can learn. “Smiling and eye contact are important. Then you can build your flirting skills from that base, using more advanced tactics,” Kennair told EurekAlert.