The Psychology of Flirting; The [Body] Language of Love

Flirting is nature’s way of allowing us to transform our everyday actions into sexual communications. It allows us to create playful sexual suggestions, keep fire within long standing relationships and initiate silent sexual messages with someone from across the room. Evolutionary Psychologists have found that flirting is an act that allows us to develop further attraction, before subconsciously moving on to ‘mate assessment’. This phase, in part, allows our bodies to subconsciously assess the suitability of a mate based on hormone levels, fertility and our immune system. [Read more about his in The Psychology of the First Kiss].

Of course, we understand how to recognise conscious flirting through body language; in women it may be the light touch, ‘batting her eyelashes’, touching her hair repeatedly or gazing with a smile; in men we may identify increased apparent muscle tone through erect posture, appearing to be standing ‘taller’ and ‘buffing’ themselves out with a lowered tone of voice.

However, Psychologists have studied the links between unintentional, unconscious nonverbal body language and flirting;

Women: The truth behind female flirting

Research suggests that, subconsciously, a woman will sit with her mouth slightly parted and gently lick or nibble her lips to draw attention to them; lips are an indicator of female fertility increasing in size with higher oestrogen levels or fertility. This action of licking or nibbling her lips invites her mate to acknowledge this area, her way of showing what she has to offer.  When she slightly touches her lips and neck, she is drawing attention to her erogenous zones with sexual intent, which heighten in sensitivity when aroused or attracted. At this point, take note of her nostrils, subconsciously when flirting a woman’s nostrils will flare, this is an involuntary response and has been linked to recent studies of the power of smell when selecting a potential mate. These micro movements relating to the face indicate subconscious flirtation which shows developing attraction.

When looking at the wider body language, a woman who is flirting will often sit in a position whereby she exposes her wrists and open palms to her mate showing openness, her legs may be crossed which may initially, but wrongly, be believed as closed body language, however if her top leg is positioned towards her mate and her arms are open, this is a sign of interest. A woman will generally position herself whereby she can lean closer – when noticing those flirtatious little touches, if she withdraws her hand and brings it to her chest this displays further attraction – drawing attention to that area of her body.

If she feels you’re not interested, she may excuse herself from your company, with an accentuated wiggle in her walk, drawing your attention to her and allowing you to recognise her absence.

Men: Ways to tell he’s flirting

On studying male body language, of course we can see him ‘preening’ his tail feathers by buffing out his chest to increase his muscle tone, standing with legs slightly parted, usually at shoulder width and with his hands on hips to extenuate the pelvic area, showing he is a worthy ‘mate’ and to also appear powerful – but more subtly, men who are interested will typically lean in, angle their chest and pelvis towards their mate even when looking another way, showing his attention and interest only in them. This allows him to keep his mate’s focus and attention solely on him, showing that although he is looking in another direction, he is still engaged and available.

He may use displacement-like movements such as touching his face more often with the back of his fingers, drawing his mate’s attention by touching his tie, shirt or collar or by running his fingers through his hair whilst glancing away for a second.

Micromovements will be displayed, such as slightly raised eyebrows when talking to or listening to his mate with a slight head tilt; when he receives eye contact, he will initially look away and then glance back – bear in mind that as he becomes more confident and picks up on signals of reciprocal interest, eye contact will turn in to longer gazes which typically last more than two to three seconds. After he has established comfortable eye contact, he may subconsciously touch his face more often, which shows higher levels of flirtation. He may look at his mate in a triangular pattern, from each eye down to mouth – particularly to their top lip – back to looking at each eye in turn.

Is your date yawning, looking away and stretching? Don’t be worried! This isn’t automatically linked to boredom or a sign that he wants to hurry the date along to get home, but in fact it can be used during the attention phase. Over exaggerated movements are used to attract attention, particularly if he feels his mate is averting their eyes or their interest is wondering – are you paying close enough attention to him?

So, if you’re navigating through the maze that is dating, and want to know if she likes you, or if he really is interested – make sure that during your date you listen to what they say… and what their [body] language of love is telling you.