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What is Flirting? The Science Behind This Common Act

Flirting has been around since before we even realized what it was. So what is flirting, exactly, and why do we do it? Here’s the science behind it.


Everybody flirts. And while some are better at it than others, it’s something that we naturally and sometimes even unconsciously do. Even when we were babies, we would flirt with people whom we found pleasant to look at and be around.

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 life mate. So when you flirt, you’re subconsciously gauging someone’s ability to be a successful life partner.

The reason we spend so much time bantering with that special someone            

Flirting is FUN! Personally, I take great joy in flirting with people, whether I’m interested in them romantically or not. I like the banter. I like the mystery. And most of all, I like when someone wants to flirt back with me.

I think everyone enjoys flirting once they let loose and allow themselves to enjoy it. But even though I know flirting is a way to find a potential life mate, I never knew the real science behind what flirting really is and why we do it… until now, at least. Here’s everything you should know about flirting.

#1 It’s natural. 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?]

#2 We’ve evolved to flirt in different ways. 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.

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]

#3 It’s subconscious at times. As mentioned above, you don’t actually realize that you’re flirting sometimes. 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]

#4 But it’s conscious at other times. When you intentionally want to pick someone up, you probably do things that you know might get their attention. If you’re a woman, you might stick out your chest so your breast look bigger—something you know men like. If you’re a man, you’ll probably make an effort to flex your muscles in order to look more appealing.

But do you know why we know these things attract the opposite sex? From a scientific standpoint, men like large breasts because they have a history of yielding more and healthier offspring. Similarly, in the early stages of human development, a woman would have relied on a man’s strength to provide food and protection for her and her children. Thus explaining why women find muscular men attractive. [Read: 13 lusty signs of sexual attraction to keep an eye on]

#5 Animals even do it! 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 engrained into their subconscious to perform these mating rituals in order to keep their species alive.

#6 We all flirt in similar ways. According to gender, that is. There was once a study conducted by Timothy Perper, a psychologist, and David Givens, an anthropologist, that examined 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]

#7 Flirting is just as much physical as it is vocal. I’m 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 taking 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]

#8 Flirting actually changes your brain chemistry momentarily. 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]

#9 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.

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

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