Working out of the University of Kansas, researchers decided to figure out if there was a particular facial expression that women used to show their interest in a man—a flirting face. Spoiler alert: there is.
Serious and Silly Science
There’s serious science—like the thousands of researchers working on a cure for COVID-19—and then there’s silly science, like determining how many hot dogs someone can eat in ten minutes. This new bit of research falls into the second category, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. It has, for example, the potential to tamp down many an awkward late-night moment in bars across the world.
“There are very few scientific articles out there that have systematically studied this well-known phenomenon,” said Omri Gillath, professor of psychology at KU, who co-wrote the paper. “None of these studies have identified the flirting facial expression and tested its effects.”
Using something called the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), the researchers were able to pin down the exact look that indicated a flirt rather than a friendly smile.
The FACS provides a method of breaking down each expression the human face can make and assigning it a code. By combining codes, it is possible to arrive at exact facial expressions related to internal conditions like mood, interest, and yes, attraction. FACS is studied by psychiatrists and interviewers and animators working at companies, including Disney and Pixar, to gain a greater understanding of how our facial expressions belie our emotions.
In the study, both actresses and non-actress volunteers were asked to model a flirting expression they would typically use to attract a man. In nearly all cases, the men were able to distinguish a flirt from other looks. Some women were better at the expression, and some men were better at grasping it, but across six studies, the researchers were able to pinpoint the most effective flirting posture.
So, what is this magic expression?
The researchers say that a head turned to one side and tilted down, a slight smile, and eyes turned toward the target of the flirt gets the best results.
“Our findings support the role of flirtatious expression in communication and mating initiation,” Gillath said. “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.”
There you have it, folks—science to the rescue!
The paper has been published in The Journal of Sex Research, a peer-reviewed publication.