Their eyes meet across a crowded room. They smile. Slowly, they move toward each other until they're face to face.
It's time to flirt. But will the same techniques work for both men and women?
Bucknell University Professor T. Joel Wade, psychology, says flirting with the opposite sex is not a one-approach-fits-all proposition.
"Each sex has different initial interests when starting a relationship," said Wade, lead author of "How to Flirt Best: The Perceived Effectiveness of Flirtation Techniques," published in the June 2015 Interpersona: An International Journal on Personal Relationships. "Knowing that, each sex can adapt their approach to better appeal to their potential mate and increase their chances of being successful."
Wade used surveys to generate the lists of flirtatious acts performed by men and women when interacting with the opposite sex. Additional surveys gathered ratings of the effectiveness of these acts, where women rated the flirtatious actions from men, and vice versa. "We also included a measure to control for socially desirable responding, when people give answers that make them look good or positive," added Wade.
The study defined success as making initial contact — or "getting a chance to interact in order to be able to hopefully convince the person to 'give you a shot,'" said Wade. For women flirting with men, physical actions that suggest a possibility of sexual access are the most effective, such as a kiss on the cheek, shoulder rub or gentle touch on the arm.
Conversely, men have the most success flirting with women when their actions suggest commitment and exclusivity, such as holding hands, asking them out or making them laugh. However, it's not merely a case of men are from Mars, women are from Venus. In many cases, said Wade, men and women favor different flirtatious acts because they're looking for different outcomes.
"Men and women have different investments into relationships, and that drives their preferences in the qualities of their mates," said Wade. "In so many ways, it's much more costly for women if a mistake is made, so they must also be much more discriminating in making a choice when responding to a flirtatious action." In the study, men identified 26 flirtatious acts that they have done, or would do to flirt with a woman for a long-term relationship, while women identified only 14 separate acts. Wade attributes this to women thinking more critically about the process.
"The fact that women had fewer responses is a product of women being more guarded and careful. Women are more in touch with things that actually work, while men are more likely to try a wider variety of techniques in the hope that something will work," said Wade. "In so many ways, women are just better at flirting."