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What is Flirting? The Science Behind This Common Act

Most of us show signs of flirting without even realizing it. But, what is flirting really? Why do we do it and is it the same for everyone?


Everybody flirts. And while some are better at it than others, it’s something that we naturally and sometimes even unconsciously do. But, what is flirting? Does it have an actual definition, and what does it look like in practice? Is it the same for everyone or do we all flirt differently?

There are countless ways to flirt. Some use eye contact, others use body language. Words and double entendres are other forms of flirting. Again, some people do it really well but others are pretty terrible at it. The good news is that with a little confidence and practice, you can improve your flirting game and improve your love life. [Read: How to flirt with girls – 25 secrets to help you win her over]

What is flirting, really?

Although we think of flirting as a fun way to get to know people and perhaps pick up a one-night-stand, it’s actually a natural human instinct that aids in our process of weeding out the duds to find the perfect potential lifemate. So when you flirt, you’re subconsciously gauging someone’s ability to be a successful life partner.

It’s very hard to define flirting because it’s a series of behaviors rather than one thing that you can put a label on. However, flirting is a social and even a sexual thing. It’s how we act around people we find attractive in the hope that they find us attractive in return. [Read: How to flirt with a friend – 18 ways to tease without being weird]

A few flirting moves include:

  • Body language
  • Suggestive remarks
  • Playfully touching or nudging the other person
  • Gentle insults that are designed to show friendliness rather than annoyance
  • Giggling or laughing
  • Drawing attention to body parts, such as the lips or breasts
  • Playful banter

The list goes on. As we mentioned, everyone flirts differently but now you have a general idea of what flirting is and why we do it. Without flirting, how would we ever try and tell someone that we like them or work out if they like us back? We’d actually have to tell them directly and how terrifying is that? [Read: How to flirt online – 11 super smooth ways to do it right]

Flirting is natural and fun

We flirt whether we realize it or not. Even if we don’t want to be flirting with someone because we’re in a committed relationship already, we do. It’s not something that we need to be ashamed of if we do it when we’re with someone already, because it’s natural.

It’s just as natural as needing water and eating. Our bodies are preprogrammed to flirt and seek out potential mates. It’s human nature to survive, and flirting leads to reproduction, which keeps the human species alive and well. [Read: Is flirting cheating when you’re in a relationship?]

You don’t just send a wink in the direction of a cute person in order to flirt. Maybe that’s how it was once upon a time, but not anymore. Throughout the years, we have evolved to use many different techniques when flirting, some of which we don’t even realize we’re doing.

Flirting is subconscious or conscious

A lot of people don’t know the way their body movements change when they’re flirting. When a man approaches a woman and drops a horrible pick-up line, he’s probably got his chest puffed out. When a woman walks past a man in the hopes that he’ll approach her, she’s probably swaying her hips more than she normally does when she walks.

These are all subconscious things that we do when our intention is to flirt with someone. These things have been programmed into our minds to do during those times, so they’re largely beyond our control. [Read: Body language attraction – Touchy feely flirting]

That means the way your body language speaks to someone whom you find attractive is mostly out of your control.

The fact that you smile more around someone you’re interested in, send glances in their direction, and even stand with your feet pointed in their direction are all subconscious acts that you perform when you’re flirting. [Read: 10 subtle eye contact flirting moves that always work]

When you intentionally want to pick someone up, you probably do things that you know might get their attention. We know that many men like breasts, so a woman might stick out her breasts. We know that many women like strong, muscly men, so he might push his chest out or show his biceps. That is conscious flirting – when you’re doing it and you know it! [Read: 13 lusty signs of sexual attraction to keep an eye on]

Even animals flirt!

If you want to understand subconscious flirting, look at the way animals attract their mates. We do similar things that animals do when they’re in search of a partner to procreate with. For example, male peacocks show off the size and variety of color of their feathers in hopes of attracting a female to mate with.

Peacocks aren’t aware that what they’re doing is flirting, per se. It’s merely ingrained into their subconscious to perform these mating rituals in order to keep their species alive.

But as humans, we flirt in similar ways too, usually according to gender. [Read: How to flirt with a guy subtly without really flirting at all]

A study was conducted by Timothy Perper, a psychologist, and David Givens, an anthropologist, examining women’s body language while flirting with men at a bar.

The study concluded that the majority of women used the same body language when engaging with someone they seemed to like. They all played with their hair, smiled, giggled, gazed up at the men, swayed their hips when walking, and even licked their lips—all subconscious signals to the men that they are fertile and youthful.

When the researchers then turned the study around onto the men, they found many of the same behaviors amongst that gender. The men arched their backs to reveal their chest, sat with their legs spread open, and performed actions that expressed their dominance *being loud and authoritative and showing their money*. [Read: 15 obvious flirting signs between a guy and a girl]

Flirting is just as vocal as it is physical

We’re sure you’ve realized by now that flirting is probably even more so about your subconscious body language than it is about the words that come out of your mouth. Because let’s be honest, some people should really just keep their mouths shut when they want to pick someone up.

Someone could be talking gibberish, but if your subconscious mind picks up on their flirtatious body language and you respond to it, then it doesn’t matter what they say. This may be the reason why some people date complete d-bags. Apparently, their chemistry just mixes well. [Read: How to create sexual chemistry and make it stay]

One study conducted by Antonio Damasio, M.D. discovered that as soon as we see someone attractive, our brain is sent into a frenzy that actually mimics the brain of a person with a certain type of brain cell damage.

This is really just a fancy way of saying that our rational thinking gets temporarily shut down when we’re crushing on someone, leaving us unable to make coherent decisions. However, this is *at least in most cases* only a temporary phenomenon, and we can usually come back to reality after that initial infatuation period is over. [Read: 15 subtle signs you’re secretly addicted to love]

The good news? You can learn to attract someone you like!

It is possible for you to act in a certain way that can purposely attract someone you like if they’re not showing interest in you. As you learned above, there are different body movements that the opposite gender is attracted to, and you can purposely use those primal signals to your advantage to attract your crush.

1. Make eye contact

2. Watch your body language and don’t fidget or cross your arms over your body

3. Make them very aware of your best assets!

4. Nod along when they’re speaking and show you’re listening [Read: 10 ways to be a better listener in your relationship]

5. Smile and laugh

6. Banter with them and make fun of them – just a little

7. Nudge them playfully or touch their arm

8. Use the occasional suggestive comment

You can’t deny it – flirting is fun! You might be struggling with it now, but with a little practice, you’ll find that you enjoy the process and probably get better results too!

[Read: 20 signs of attraction in the first conversation]

Flirting is fun, innocent, and can even be the first step to embarking on a wonderful long-term relationship. Knowing and understanding the science behind what is flirting is can even help you to also recognize these signs in others who may be looking to attract you.

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Bella Pope LovePanky
Annabel Rodgers
Annabel is a lifestyle writer, cheese enthusiast (Wisconsin native over here) and fantasy adventure author-in-progress who enjoys all things love, dog,...