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SIRC Guide to Flirting: what social science tells you about flirting (sirc.org)
122 points by cynthiaherald on June 16, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

This all may be eye-rolling advice but some of it is still worth jogging the subconscious about:

> When asked about flirting, most people – particularly men – focus on the verbal element: the ‘chatting-up’, the problems of knowing what to say, finding the right words, etc. In fact, the non- verbal element – body-language, tone of voice, etc. – is much more important, particularly in the initial stages of a flirtation. When you first meet new people, their initial impression of you will be based 55% on your appearance and body-language, 38% on your style of speaking and only 7% on what you actually say.

I can't be the only hacker in here who has wondered why a slickly produced shallow essay got more interest than the substantive essay printed on a static HTMl file set to 12 pt. Times New Roman/100% width. How Apple managed to succeed despite the respect of many an intelligent hardware enthusiast is a classic example.

This is partially related to attractiveness, yes, but all things being even, the presentation that is more thoughtfully welcome, accommodating, and empathetic...regardless of content...will have a surprisingly higher reach than we might expect

> their initial impression of you will be based 55% on your appearance and body-language, 38% on your style of speaking and only 7% on what you actually say.

AFAIK, the 7%-38%-55% rule has been debunked. See also:


It's not so much debunked but that it only applies to certain types of communication:

"Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking. Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like–dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable. Also see references 286 and 305 in Silent Messages – these are the original sources of my findings."

It is debunked. Wikipedia states that Mehrabian's experiment included only women, and that subsequent experiment found contradictory results on the relative importance of verbal and non verbal cues. What remains is a collection of factors letting one build a theory of mind of the other person, decide the other's attractiveness or lack thereof, etc..

And flirting is very much a like-dislike situation.

That was also my theory, but it results in a cruel zero or one binary world. Here is a more friendly one. Imagine a probability distribution (lets say a Gaussian :))over all possible partners. Now, there is a small number of people that really, really like you (they are at the right end of the Gaussian). Also there is a small number of people that you will never have, no matter how hard you try (left end). Now, for anyone in between the two opposites you will need to actually do some work :), and in the process you can make them shift to the left or right. By improving yourself, you can also improve the shape of you distribution :)

You can also do things to increase your variance (e.g. tattoos).

:) right back at you, big boy. ;)

> their initial impression of you will be based 55% on your appearance and body-language

My female friends tell me that if a guy comes up to talk to them - your body language gives away that you're interested whether you know it or not. You don't have to say it. In fact, it can be awkward if you do say it right away without justifying it (e.g. 'you are hot' v. 'i like your aloofness').

Even the nerdiest person has thousands of years of built-in intuition that trumps all conscious analysis.

The hardest step, for me, is just putting yourself out there.

The problem is that "putting yourself out there" goes against your intuition, and by priming your mind this way, you also turn off the useful parts of your intuition.

If you try to start a conversation in fight-or-flight mode, your body language will betray you, and it will either end quickly or carry on awkwardly.

That is why the number one lesson in being good with women is being comfortable in their presence. I don't really think that by "putting yourself out there" you are "priming your mind " to "turn off the useful parts of your intuition". Its just an irrational fear that you try to get rid of

What narcissistic "pickup artists" effectively say is that women also know if a guy is interested in a long-term relationship or a short term one, and will avoid guys who seem too clingy. Asking for a long term relationship is a bad idea, because it's asking for too much, too early.

(I also am encouraged that style of speaking is only 38% of the equation...it's a lot of energy to break away from monotone)

"When you first approach an attractive stranger, having established at least an indication of mutual interest through eye contact, try to make eye contact again at about 4ft away, before moving any closer. At 4 ft (about two small steps away), you are on the borderline between what are known as the ‘social zone’ (4 to 12 ft) and the ‘personal zone’ (18in to 4ft).

If you receive a positive response at 4ft, move in to ‘arm’s length’ (about 2ft 6in)."

Reminds me of the "How To" Goofy cartoons -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxeL9bdSu-A&t=102

That's genius. It's such a better read when you add the tone and gusto of that narrator.

> The most striking exception to this rule is horseracing, where all the ‘action’ takes place in just a few minutes, the half-hour interval between races is dedicated to sociability, and friendly interaction between strangers is actively encouraged by racecourse etiquette. In fact, our own recent research on the behaviour of racegoers indicates that the ‘social micro-climate’ of the racecourse makes it one of the best flirting environments in Britain.

This is one of the most impressive conclusions the text comes to, because though the social climate absolutely leads itself to be a great place to flirt, I can only imagine the kind of people who would hit on me at the racetrack (or someones reaction when I tell them where I met my love).

I just read a couple of pages, and this is a great read.

"If you are mainly looking for flirting opportunities, . . . . seek out clubs full of happy, sociable under-achievers."

It's pure comedy gold, Jerry!

Having said that: I hate to stereotype, but I find us geeks (men) to be pretty bad at flirting. I don't know if a 26-page tome will solve that problem or not....

Basic social science articles always read like they're written by Captain Obvious.

"1. Do initiate flirtation with people of roughly the same level of attractiveness as yourself.

2. Don’t flirt with people who are unlikely to return your interest."

But on the other hand, there's really no easy way out (writing about it, I mean). I've yet to find a more "practical" approach that doesn't read like either semi-useless and somewhat obvious statistics ("try to position yourself between 3 and 4 feet away from your flirting partner"), or just oozes sleaze ("pickup artists", ESR etc.). Getting technical about human beings and our social interaction works quite well in a clinical, observing manner, but once it's meant as actual practical advise, it's very easy to cross boundaries.

As someone with borderline autism, I find this sort of guide extremely helpful, because things that may be obvious to you take me immense amounts of time to learn and internalize. Normally I find myself having large amounts of "rules" governing me that turn out to be incorrectly identified from social conduct or incorrectly inferred from the on-the-surface descriptions of things. Hell, even the concept of flirting is something I've just barely started grasping in my 20s.

I know I'm a bit of an outlier, but it's sometimes good to be reminded that yes, you can try to flirt in this or that situation, or that X or Y are a good sign of flirting.

EDIT: Of course, this is mostly still good as a reminder, introduction, or to shatter misconceptions. The only way to really learn flirting, I've found, is the same as one would learn any other culture: by immersion. As someone whose approach to such things is less intuitive, immersion may be followed by analysis to extract explicit lessons from my experiences.

Interesting is that it seems to focus on long-term relationships as the reference point against which it gives its advice.

For shorter-term relationships (not implying anything), I've found best success with flirting with women considerably more attractive than myself. I've asked a number of my more attractive girlfriends why they were with an ugly schlub like myself and I get two common answers: Personality/humor/laid-backness is one, and the other is that it seems that the best looking ladies either don't get approached, or don't get approached with anything better than tired old pickup lines.

I do agree with their findings on pickup lines though. Some friends and I spent a few weeks testing out different ones (in the name of science, naturally), and I had, by a large margin, the most success with "Hi, I'm Barry. Can I buy you a drink?" -- obviously varied if I'm not somewhere I can buy a drink from.

or just oozes sleaze ("pickup artists", ESR etc.)

They may be sleazy, but they're basically right.

Even if their statistical shenanigans would be scientifically "accurate" (which I still doubt), by no means would I, morally and ethically, consider them "right".

I'm the stereotypical reclusive, clinically shy geek, but I've gotten past puberty, and stopped considering penetration to be the "end game". Note that those douchebags seem to be exclusively care about that, there's no "relationship artist" trade that I'm aware of.

Believe it or not, sometimes women are looking for "penetration" as the "end game". Not every encounter is expected to end in a life-long marriage.

I think "sometimes" is the key word here. I like cookies but eating them all the time might be a bit unhealthy. And preaching the "all cookie lifestyle" would seem a bit odd. From what I've seen of the "pickup scene", that seems to be the rule. I like the PDF here. It's a nice, social science view of flirting, and although it's always odd to view interaction in a statistical way, it's not written as how to best exploit and game things ("flirting" vs. "pickup"). I think this style is way better than your usual "how to get any girl in bed" type of book (or your average Cosmo type of article for the distaff side).

I just don't think this is true. I think the majority of people that end up looking into the pickup stuff are normal guys, who are bad at talking to girls, and who want a relationship. Most people don't want to spend the time and money necessary to have some kind of clubbing 3-nights a week lifestyle.

The reason those books recommend going out multiple times a week, isn't to have that lifestyle per say, it's because that's the only way to accumulate enough hours at practicing these social interactions to internalize it. Once most people reach that point, they stop going to clubs and spending all that money. Then they use the skills they learned through trial-and-error on strangers to date people in their social circles.

I'm not condemning the readers. But are we really assuming a dichotomy between "Forever Alone" and following in the foot steps of "pickup artists"? Especially in a thread where the original article shows that you can convey the essential information without machismo self-help lingo?

If it's from sleazoid to sleazoid, okay, let them simmer in their own subcultural juices. But as you say, a part of the reader demographics is oriented towards the socially insecure, and there this approach can be damaging (and seems inherently exploitative to me). There are other books about this, from targetign the shyness angle to basic social interaction ("shmoozing") to flirting – or to bedroom performance, if you're concerned about that. You don't really have to reach for the "seduction community" shenanigans.

Apart from the moral/ethical angle, there's also little actual value in that part of the bookshelf, from what I have seen. It's bad self-help, coupled with huge amounts of self-promotion (to establish the required credibility of the author). I'm not saying that it doesn't work, mind you. Not necessarily because of the clever tricks and lingo, but because of the basic confidence boost. "You can do it!" is probably all a lot of people need. Just like lots of diets or GTD type of books work just by the customer deciding to watch what he's eating or trying to organize his life.

Still don't think you should hand your money to that sector of virtual wing men… Maybe all joking aside, we would benefit from a "advanced social skills" Hacker News (There's probably a subreddit for it already).

I agree, that is a false dichotomy. Here's an alternative: read a lot of things, including one or two books by the "pickup" people. Glean from their stuff some things that are useful, and toss out the rest. If you're so averse to paying $10 for a paperback copy of The Game (which as a first-person account is also a story with some pretty high entertainment value btw), then borrow it from a library.

No one is advocating buying into their whole philosophy. But as I said in a parallel thread to this one, unfortunately those guys have developed the most accurate and detailed model for modern day social interactions that I've seen. After I knew what to look for in terms of body language, group dynamics, etc. the difference was night and day.

Many more women are looking for great sex as the end game than are looking for penetration. I mean, ask some of your female friends who really love penetration, and you'll find that even the ones who are most enthusiastic about it have had penetrative sexual encounters they would never want to repeat.

You're taking me too literally. I used those words because they're what the parent post used. He was being dismissive of guys who just wanted to have sex with women (and, I suspect, thinking he was taking some kind of moral high ground, probably as part of a rationalization mechanism) while I was pointing out that sometimes women also just wanted to have sex.

The "pickup artist" stuff may ooze sleaze, but as a detailed model for human social interactions it really is the best model that currently exists. This paper is extremely simplistic by comparison.

If you want to have a better understanding of all the intricacies of group dynamics, body language, etc. unfortunately I don't know of any other resource. Does it comes with a lot of BS and sleazy stuff attached? Yes, so just filter that out. But don't ignore it completely, you're doing yourself a disservice. A lot of the power dynamics and body language stuff applies to work situations as well btw...

Sorry, no citations here, just my personal experience, so believe what you want. But I can tell you its like night and day now that I know what to look for.

[citation please] care to back that up?

The PDF's metadata and the Internet Archive Wayback Machine say that this item (available via http://www.sirc.org/publik/flirt.html) originated thirteen years ago. Surely we readers of Hacker News don't fit the "awkward geek" stereotype that well?!

There is a newer "advanced" guide: http://www.sirc.org/publik/advanced_flirting.shtml

> There is a newer "advanced" guide: http://www.sirc.org/publik/advanced_flirting.shtml

Note that the "advanced" guide almost doesn't have any of the HOWTO advice from the OP link, however I've read and would recommend to read both: the "advanced" guide helps put things in perspective.

Also, I think the following quote from the "advanced" version is brilliant:

The human species is addicted to rule-making. Every human activity, without exception, including natural biological functions such as eating and sex, is hedged about with complex sets of rules and regulations, dictating where, when, with whom and what manner the activity may be performed. Animals just do these things; humans make an almighty song and dance about it: this is known as 'culture' or 'civilization'.

I had a young business co-founder who was into this stuff. Turned out to be a disaster. A top company was interested in incubating us, but didn't read a link she sent them soon enough, so she killed it and forced them to ask for it again. Another person wanted to connect us with some interested investors, and she agreed to meet, then canceled, then re-offered, etc.. It was just constant promise-withdraw routines and other flirting stuff to make her seem busy and valuable and desirable and someone to chase, but everyone else, myself included, were just old and tired and just wanted to get down to business and it was a major turn off.

Well, at least this brings me from "I don't understand anything about flirting" to "Here's a list of everything I don't understand about flirting."

All learning is by immersion. The best way to start learning flirting is to observe couples on dates, and note their body language. You don't need to be close enough to hear their voices, since body language will be your important leader. If you can hear them speak, even better. You can also make it into a social outing by bringing along a friend and making running commentary on the date (this will help you exchange notes and speed the learning process, and it will also make learning fun and thus increase retention). Note that these things (esp #2) are both fairly socially unacceptable, so be aware of that and try to be somewhat discreet.

Once you do that, go out and use the body language you've learned to indicate flirting and assess other's reactions. Test, adjust, repeat. The hardest part is that you'll need to find a group of people whose opinion you don't care about until you're vaguely OK at it. I suggest parties, not bars or clubs, because they are the most conducive to the wide range of flirting you'll tend to want to master.

When learning just about anything, there's a period during which the rate at which you discover additional aspects about that thing which you don't know is greater than the rate at which you learn. So, your self-assessment of capability decreases before it increases. At least this always happens to me. I've come to accept this as a sign of progress.

This topic is hard to compute. Why can't there just be an open source standard

see @ajays comment above

Disclaimer: I have great respect for women. If you are a woman, please don't take offense from this post. Because none is intended. As your archetypical computer nerd, I had a very hard time dating. These are things that helped me. I want to share this info with other guys like me. Sort of like ... I wish I knew this when I was young.


I had a very hard time with the ladies. Somethings that helped:

- Move to a place with a better male-female ratio.

- Move to a place where you seem like a good catch.

- Seek out women in different professions than tech (I am convinced there are too few geek girls to go around. I never realized how bad the odds were.)

That's it. Seriously. For me, it was about location-location-location. I firmly believe there are certain cities full of women who just tease - they string you along as friends but no more. If you have had no dating success in 1-2 years, you might be in a dating dead-zone.

Some things that helped (but I sucked at doing these):

- Gym

- Good clothes (not by my definition but by a young woman's definition - these did not match at all. We're talking bright colors, shopping at Express ... this nearly brought a tear to my eye.)

- Good haircut (again, I thought I looked like an idiot ... the ladies really like it. Spiky hair=catnip?)

- Read "The Game" - it is not about pick ups. It is about confidence. Frankly, I think the same ideas described in this book for picking up women are used by so-called hustlers and suits in making business deals.

Heh ... maybe I should do a more detailed post on this one day. I clearly spent way too much thinking about this subject when I was single :p

Some important things:

a) DO NOT GET DEPRESSED! There are lots of losers out there. Getting with a loser is easy. One reason you are single is you want something better.

b) DON'T LOSE YOUR IDENTITY!! A lot of women described me as geeky when I was young. So what? I do what I love. That said, I'm okay compromising on clothes. However, when I dated women who wanted to change me completely, it was me who broke it off. That said, I do try to reduce my overall level of geekiness in front of strangers. Don't overwhelm them ;-)

c) DON'T GET DEPRESSED! When you are young, single and geeky, it might seems like the one thing you need to make life work is a mate. That's not true. Trust me. There are benefits to being single - like time to play video games, board games, travel on your own, hack around, read books, attend tech events, whatever you want. Never lose respect for yourself!

Best of luck to all my single, geeky HNers. I hope some of this will help.


tl;dr; Chrome's built-in PDF viewer has trouble with this file.

No problems for me on 19.0.1084.56 on OS X

Hmm, maybe it's something to do with the font rendering. It's fine on my desktop, but not my laptop.

I've run into this multiple times on Ubuntu---have you installed the "msttcorefonts" package?

yes same problem with me.Google Chrome 16.0.912.77 on ubuntu

Ah, SIRC is great.

Their British Pub culture guide (http://www.sirc.org/publik/ptpintro.html) is the best and I think the only available research on the subject. It really helped me when I moved to the UK...

That pub guide is good. It should be noted that all the stuff about every pub legally having to close at eleven doesn't apply any more. The "last orders" ritual still exists, but it will occur at a later closing time.

On Chrome/Fedora that PDF has no spaces between letters at all.

Hacker News: where we discuss advanced programming and elementary social skills.

I wonder if there's somewhere out there where it's the reverse.

Advanced social skills and elementary programming?

The "Countess Lovelace School of Young Ladies", where you learn proper ballroom etiquette and the language of the fan, plus a bit of SQL to work with your wardrobe database?

(Solving the "I've got nothing to wear" problem with a few self joins)

This made me laugh aloud. Nicely done.

Isn’t the main reason we are bad at these things because we don’t really care for them. I’m not suggesting we are asexual but that we don’t hold flirting etc. in very high regard.

I doubt it. I think it's safe to say that most people pine for social skills if they perceive they lack them. Perhaps controversial, but I'd wager that most of the time resentment towards a social concept like flirting is really just a consequence of defeatism.

That's a shame, it's a hell of a lot of fun!

I think most people are bad at flirting, not just hackers.

Like a Hogwarts for hackers.

Its rather mroe introductory but it's still an interesting and informative read. Defintiely something to print out and read when bored or give to a younger brother or any young person entering high school or college. Wish I had this when I was beggining my college days.

Have to admit that some of the "results" are quite entertaining e.g. the ‘social micro-climate’ of the racecourse makes it one of the best flirting environments in Britain.

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