by researchers based at the University of Kansas for examining if flirting has a particular facial cue effectively used by women to indicate interest in a man.
“There are very few scientific articles out there that have systematically studied this well-known phenomenon. None of these studies have identified the flirting facial expression and tested its effects.”, said Omri Gillath, professor of psychology at KU, who co-wrote the paper.
Gillath’s collaborators were lead author Parnia Haj-Mohamadi, a doctoral student in psychology at KU, and Erika Rosenberg of the University of California-Davis.
It was found that some of the internal behaviors such as being romantically or sexually interested in someone can be expressed to others non-verbally through facial expressions or body gestures. This reveals that flirting works!
“Across our six studies, we found most men were able to recognize a certain female facial expression as representing flirting. 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.”, says Gillath.
Some professional actresses and women volunteers in the community were asked to spontaneously pose a flirting expression or to follow some instructions based on existing anthropological literature for what researchers define as flirting.
They found that some women were really good and effective at conveying flirtatious facial cue compared to other women and some men were good at receiving and recognizing this cue.
The researchers used the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to classify the morphology of highly recognized flirtatious facial expressions. The coding revealed the most effective flirting cues include a head turned to one side and tilted down slightly, a slight smile, and eyes turned forward towards the implied target.
“Our findings support the role of flirtatious expression in communication and mating initiation. 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.”, says Gillath.