Table of Contents
- First Impressions
- How Do You Flirt With Someone?
- Flirting Tip #1: Lean In
- Flirting Tip #2: Head Tilting
- Flirting Tip #3: The Pygmalion Effect
- Flirting Tip #4: Mirroring
- Flirting Tip #5: The Art of Subtle Touch
- Flirting Tip #6: The Rule of 3
- Flirting Tip #7: Strong Eye Contact
- Flirting Tip #8: The Eyebrow Flash
- What Are The Signs of Flirting?
- How Do Women Flirt?
- Female Flirting Cue #1: Exposing The Vulnerable Bits
- Female Flirting Cue #2: Teasing
- Female Flirting Cue #3: The Butt Curve
- How Do Men Flirt?
- Male Flirting Cue #1: Getting Close
- Male Flirting Cue #2: Extra Touch
- Male Flirting Cue #3: Impressive Stories
- Bonus: The First Impression Cue Men and Women Find Most Attractive
- To Smile... Or Not To Smile
To understand modern-day nonverbal signals of attraction and the science of flirting, it is helpful to look at the history of where our body language comes from. Our caveman ancestors used the same body language we use today.
Here are the messages we are trying to send with our body language to potential mates and what is seen as attractive:
- I’m open
- I’m harmless
- I’m interested
- I’m approachable
- I’m fertile
The question is, how does attraction happen? In this guide, we’re going to dive deep. We’ll go over:
- the 2 first impression cues that make a great impression
- 8 cues you can use today to master the art of flirting
- the difference between how men and women flirt
- the #1 cue of attraction (hint: it’s different for men and women)
Can You Read Body Language? (Quiz)
How good are your body language skills? Take our free body language quiz to find out!
Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher says that the human body knows within one second whether someone is physically attractive or not. Here are the body language cues that humans find most attractive:
- Availability: Both males and females find people with available body language the most attractive. Available body language is smiling, uncrossed arms, uncrossed legs, and upward gazing (not looking down at shoes or phones).
- Fertility: From an evolutionary perspective, humans are tuned into cues that signal fertility and youth. Luckily, these can be emphasized with body language. For men, standing up straight, squaring the shoulders, planting feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, and displaying hands are all signs of fertility. For a woman, keeping your hair down, tilting your head to expose pheromones, and keeping hands and wrists visible to display the soft skin of the wrists are highly attractive cues.
Want to make someone think about you long after the conversation? Learn to master the art of making a good first impression.
How Do You Flirt With Someone?
Once our mind decides we like someone as a potential mate, our body automatically begins to change physically to attract the person. Our cheeks flush to make us look like we are aroused, our lips swell to look more fertile, and even our pheromones pump to attract the other person. Here are some tips to maximize your flirt game:
Flirting Tip #1: Lean In
Leaning toward someone is a nonverbal way of telling them you are engaged. This works especially well if you are in a group of people and you are interested in one person in the group. A way to show them you are interested is by leaning toward them. This will subconsciously pull them in your direction and tell them you want them more.
Flirting Tip #2: Head Tilting
Head tilting shows interest and engagement. If you are speaking with someone, let them know you are present and interested by tilting your head and gazing at them. Be sure to not look over their head or around the room; this shows lack of interest and sensitivity.
Flirting Tip #3: The Pygmalion Effect
If you want to attract people, don’t hold out on compliments. One study by Professor Norihiro Sadato and his associates, and focused on social rewards, found that receiving praise was the best way to motivate participants… and it was even better than receiving cash!
When researchers asked forty-eight participants to complete a finger-tapping activity, the groups that received praise for their performance showed a significantly higher rate of improvement relative to other participants.
Social rewards such as praise registered in the same part of the brain that lights up when the subject is rewarded with money.
Second, when you assign someone a positive label, such as being highly intelligent or being a good person, that actually cues them to live up to that label. In a nutshell, this is called the Pygmalion Effect.
Flirting Tip #4: Mirroring
The definition of mirroring is when we nonverbally “copy” someone’s body language. We can mirror someone’s posture, hand gestures, leg position, and voice.
And it’s not just about copying someone’s body language outright. Mirroring can, and SHOULD, be subtle!
Researchers studied participants and used slo-mo film1. What they found is that we show a “microsynchrony” of small movements, movements so sensitive that they are hard to see with the naked eye. These movements include tiny momentary dips and nods of the head, tense fingers, stretched lips, and jerks of the body—all beautifully matched when a pair of friends are in strong rapport.
We can’t clearly see mirroring, yet the brain registers it.
If you want to mirror with attraction, try to mirror subtly. To find out more about mirroring, head on over to our mirroring article.
Flirting Tip #5: The Art of Subtle Touch
Did you know that humans can decode touch? We instinctively know what types of touch mean anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy. According to one study, we are 48–83% accurate at decoding touch:
- sympathy was associated with stroking and patting
- anger was associated with hitting and squeezing
- disgust was associated with a pushing motion
- fear was associated with trembling
When it comes to a flirty touch, use the 5-in-15 rule of flirting2. In a nutshell, you want to try to touch the other person 5 times within 15 minutes. You can naturally touch someone while joking around (coming next!), when you meet someone, and even when making eye contact for even more flirting power.
For intimate touches, try touching closer to the 3 Hs:
Flirting Tip #6: The Rule of 3
Listen, last night I was on Google. I was searching for a list of ten puns to find one that made me laugh…
No pun in ten did.
Get it? Not funny? OK, I’ll let myself out…
In all seriousness, to flirt means to raise conversational energy, and there’s no better way to flirt than using good ol’ humor. And if you’re not funny, don’t worry—humor is easy to learn. Try using the Rule of 3. At its most basic level, the Rule of 3 establishes a pattern, then ends with something unexpected. You can even use a rule of 4. For example, let’s say you’re reading a list of the 4 Fs that humans have a natural drive for. That list is:
Now this is funny because we all know what the last F actually is. The Rule of 3 creates expectancy and breaks down that expectancy by offering something completely abnormal, usually resulting in laughter. Think of it as 1 normal, 2 normal, 3 funny/odd/different.
When you are flirting, try to come up with the Rule of 3 throughout your conversation:
- If I get a dog, I want to name him either Lucky, Spot, or Dumbledore.
- I love hot dogs, hamburgers, and handsome men.
- My favorite colors are red, white, and the color of your eyes.
You can see some examples from the world of TED here:
Flirting Tip #7: Strong Eye Contact
You’ve probably heard the old phrase “The windows are the eyes to the soul.” And you’d be right! In one study of 48 singles, pairs who gazed into each other’s eyes reported significantly higher feelings of affection.
So what exactly causes this eyeballing spark of attraction? When we gaze into another person’s eyes, we nonverbally say, “I am being attentive to you.” It fills our need for attention. When we gaze, it comforts us by reminding us of when we were gazing at our mothers at birth.
Plus, it releases an insta-hit of dopamine! Boo-yah!
Mutual eye gaze should be about 60–80% of the time to build good attraction.
If you’re trying to eyeball a stranger from across the room, check to see if he/she looks back at you. Not just one glance, but two, three, or even four times. Play back by exchanging eye contact and a warm smile. A long gaze is the best way to introduce yourself without having to say hello.
Pro Tip: If your eye contact seems too harsh, try breaking it up with a wink. A wink is an affectionate split-second break that stops continuous eye contact from turning creepy.
Tip for Women: If you’re making flirty eye contact with someone, keep persisting. Researcher Monika Moore studied eye gaze and found that most men require usually 3 separate gaze signals in order to “get” that they are being flirted with. Sometimes even up to 5 for really slow men. And if you’re hitting on a woman, she might not notice either. So keep eyeballing!
Flirting Tip #8: The Eyebrow Flash
Have you ever glanced at someone and immediately see they’ve given you the flash?
Coupled with a smile and a quick up-and-down of the eyebrows, the eyebrow flash can be an attraction cue we use when we’re attracted to someone. A great way to flirt is to flash when you first see someone you’re interested in. We eyebrow-flash when:
- we meet a friend we like
- we are surprised or taken aback by someone
- as a way to signal “Friend!”
The eyebrow flash is even a worldwide-recognized gesture of greeting. Use it to greet someone or spice up a conversation by making strong eye contact and flashing your brows.
What Are The Signs of Flirting?
So what are the actual signs of attraction? How do they come out in the body? Here are some body language cues for attraction:
Flushed and Blushed
When we are attracted to someone, blood will flow to our face, causing our cheeks to get red. This happens to mimic the orgasm effect where we get flushed. It is an evolutionary way the body tries to attract the opposite sex. This is why women wear blush. This also happens with lips and eyes. The redder the lips and the whiter the eyes, the more fertile and attractive someone is.
The Power of the Purse
Purse behavior is a form of nonverbal communication. It is how someone interacts with their environment based on their emotions. The purse is an interesting indicator of nonverbal behavior. For example, if a woman is feeling uncomfortable or not attracted to someone, she will either clutch her bag tightly or place it in front of or covering her body. When a woman is attracted, she literally and figuratively wants nothing to stand in the way between her and her target.
If she is loosely holding her purse and it is not blocking her front, this shows she is at ease and feels more attraction. Better yet, if she puts it on the floor, a nearby table, or the back of the chair, she wants it out of the way for her interactions with you. [Please note context here: if you are in a very public or potentially dangerous location, she could be gripping her purse for safety concerns, but in a casual place or on a date, this can be a good indicator.]
I was actually at a singles event the other night and watched a man and woman talking. The woman had her purse partially blocking her body and was tightly gripping the handle under her arm. Then the man told her he was a doctor and the woman literally swung her purse up and over her shoulder out of the way. It was amazing.
Their Heart Races
“He makes my heart race” is no cliché. Studies have found that when someone is near an attractive person, their heart rate increases. AND this works both ways. Researchers tried increasing someone’s heart rate and then putting him or her near a stranger. This then artificially made the person seem even more attractive. People seem more attractive when our heart is racing. I wouldn’t recommend taking someone’s pulse on a date or in a bar, but you can see someone’s breathing rate increase and you can feel the heat of their palm if you are holding their hand and want to go in for a kiss.
Their Feet Like You
The feet serve as a direct reflection of a person’s attitude. The key is to recognize where a person’s feet are pointed. When the feet are pointed directly toward another person, this is a sign of attraction, or at the very least, genuine interest. If, on the other hand, the feet are pointed away or toward the exit, this means that signs of attraction are probably not present.
How Do Women Flirt?
Men and women flirt slightly differently. After all, it might be pretty awkward to see a man try to flirt like Marilyn Monroe…
Female Flirting Cue #1: Exposing The Vulnerable Bits
What parts of the body do we tend to expose the most? Some people may think the “naughty parts,” but the most obvious and PG-rated answer is our wrists, pits, and neck.
The wrist, underarm, and neck areas are all highly sensitive areas of our body that usually only lovers or close ones have access to. These 3 areas of our body each play a different role:
- Exposing the wrist (or having a limp wrist) is done when women want to let someone else feel dominant. Dominants love seeing a limp wrist because it’s like a tiger seeing a limp deer on the prairie—it’s green lights to overtake and control.
- Underarm exposure can be done when we flip our hair back. Our underarms release subtle pheromones—hopefully not the nasty kind—that attract a potential mate. Studies show that men love the smell of lavender, pumpkin pie, and cinnamon, while women love cucumber, chocolate, and baby powder.
- Exposing the neck can be done when we tilt our head to the side. A slight tilt left or right makes us look more interested and also makes us more vulnerable. Neck exposure is also a submissive cue that says “Come closer.”
Female Flirting Cue #2: Teasing
Instead of using friendly humor, women often tease others. Men do it too, but women will give backhanded compliments to see how someone can handle them:
- Fumble with opening a heavy door? She might say, “I can tell you’ve been lifting.”
- Accidentally stumble on the pavement while walking? “Nice coordination you got there.”
- Order a Sex on the Beach instead of straight vodka? “Ha, that’s a weak drink!”
I’ll be the first one to admit it—when I first met Scott, I tested him like crazy. I think it’s a mechanism built inside of us to see how others handle stress. If he breaks, there’s a red flag. But if he’s as cool as a cucumber, he’ll be able to handle greater stress and problems in the future.
Female Flirting Cue #3: The Butt Curve
When women are really digging someone, they might tilt their back and stick their butt out to form a curve.
A flirting woman may push her chest out, accentuating her chest, while pushing her buttocks out in the opposite direction to make it appear bigger. Notice the curve that runs down her back is in the shape of an S.
How Do Men Flirt?
Men flirt more directly than women. Here are the cues to watch for:
Male Flirting Cue #1: Getting Close
Besides leaning in, men will find any excuse to get closer. Look for these territorial cues of attraction:
- He’ll move his chair closer. Sometimes he may get so close that his feet are right under your body if you’re seated.
- He’ll sit next to you. If you’re out to dinner, he may even choose the seat next to you. If it’s a booth, he may get closer to you as the dinner wears on and he gets more comfortable.
- He’ll shoulder up. During conversation, you might find him squaring up more instead of facing you head-on.
Male Flirting Cue #2: Extra Touch
Are you familiar with the 5 love languages? The 5 love languages include words of affirmation and acts of service, but many men prefer physical touch. Men tend to show their affection through touch, and if he’s flirting, he’ll find any excuse to touch you:
- a light brush of the arm
- tapping your shoulder
- putting his hand on your knee
As long as it’s not unwanted and you show positive signs, he’ll keep up the touch throughout the date. Want to find out what your own love language is? This might help you find what type of love cues interest you the most.
Take The Quiz: Love Language Quiz
Male Flirting Cue #3: Impressive Stories
When men flirt, they may lie. Why?
Because they might want to appear cooler than they really are. They do this to impress the woman they are with. So if you ask a man about where he got a scar on his arm and he responds with something like “I fought a tiger,” then you can probably guess he’s lying.
And studies show that men actually get away with lying twice as much as women. If you want to keep the attraction up, all you have to do is stroke his ego—yes, ladies, it’s that simple.
Bonus: The First Impression Cue Men and Women Find Most Attractive
Picking out the perfect profile picture is hard.
You have to find one where you’re feeling pretty dang attractive—the perfect angle, the perfect lighting, the perfect smile.
And while most of us choose a photo of ourselves sporting a big grin, it raises the question:
Is a smile really the best first impression to give?
It’s definitely a go-to pose for most people, especially on social media. We want to appear happy, friendly, and carefree, laughing or smiling with those pearly whites right in view. But is it what people of the opposite sex find attractive when they first see your picture?
The truth is: yes and no.
To Smile… Or Not To Smile
That is the question. And the answer to this question depends on whether you’re a man or woman.
Research has shown that men rate women as more attractive if their first impression is their beautiful smiling face. But women’s preferences for men are exactly the opposite—they find that the most attractive first impression is when a man is brooding and mysterious (see here: “the smolder“).
In a study done by Jessica Tracy and Alec Beall, men and women rated the sexual attractiveness of the opposite sex as they viewed pictures of individuals expressing a range of different emotions. These facial expressions varied from happiness (smiling), pride, sadness, moodiness, powerful/confident, etc.
Women found that men who smiled were the least attractive. They even preferred the men who had a moody or shameful facial expression over those with a smile. The reason? Women rated the men with a brooding, mysterious facial expression the highest because it made their faces look more masculine—something women subconsciously desire and look for when choosing a mate.
An interesting tidbit that Beall noted when analyzing results for this study was that smiling is linked to a lack of dominance and that “previous research has also suggested that happiness is a particularly feminine-appearing expression.” Another reason why women tended to prefer men who weren’t smiling.
Women, on the other hand, had the highest-rated first impressions when they were smiling. Men recognize smiling as a flirtation technique (meaning that the woman is available), so this cue attracts them. Men actually rated women who had powerful and confident expressions and body language as the least attractive in this study.
This lack of attraction to dominant women and women’s strong attraction to dominant men reflect the traditional and old-fashioned gender norms that have emerged in our Western society and have been reinforced throughout history.
Women, don’t let this discourage you from being confident, powerful, and happy. And men, don’t stop smiling. This study was solely based on first impressions of sexual attraction, not whether these men and women would make amazing partners.
I hope you found this flirting article helpful! In the meantime, have you noticed any flirting behaviors in your recent interactions? What kind of flirting tips do you have for me? Read the rest of our body language guide or leave a comment down below!
1 Morris, D. (2012). Peoplewatching: The Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language. London: Vintage Digital. 2 Driver, J. & van Aalst, M (2011): You Say More Than You Think: The 7-day Plan for Using the New Body Language to Get what You Want. New York
Side Note: As much as possible we tried to use academic research or expert opinion for this master body language guide. Occasionally, when we could not find research we include anecdotes that are helpful. As more research comes out on nonverbal behavior we will be sure to add it!