There really is a ‘flirting face,’ study shows, and men seem naturally able to spot it

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Is she flirting or just being polite? It’s a question plenty of men have had to ask themselves or their friends in social settings. Sometimes, unfortunately, it can lead to awkward misunderstandings when you get these signals wrong. So is there really a way to tell if someone likes you? A new study says there is and one particular facial expression is the key.

“There are very few scientific articles out there that have systematically studied this well-known phenomenon,” Omri Gillath from the University of Kansas says in a release. “None of these studies have identified the flirting facial expression and tested its effects.”

The Kansas team uses the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to examine facial expressions. Their study looks at how women interact in a social environment and how if they can convey their attraction without actually saying anything.

“Across our six studies, we found most men were able to recognize a certain female facial expression as representing flirting,” Gillath explains. “It has a unique morphology, and it’s different from expressions that have similar features — for example, smiling — but aren’t identified by men as flirting expression.”

Men keenly aware of ‘flirting face’

The study recruited professional actresses and volunteers from the community to discover which facial cues men pick up on. While some women were found to be better at making a flirtatious face than others, and some men were better at reading these cues, the study finds nearly every male successfully picked out one face as flirting.

The FACS results reveal turning a head to one side while tilting down slightly, a slight smile, and eyes looking forward at the person of interest is the most effective flirting face.

“Our findings support the role of flirtatious expression in communication and mating initiation,” Gillath adds. “For the first time, not only were we able to isolate and identify the expressions that represent flirting, but we were also able to reveal their function — to activate associations related with relationships and sex.”

The study appears in the Journal of Sex Research.

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