- Pages: 10
- Word count: 2361
- Category: Gender
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80% of all communication is non-verbal. Men and women demonstrate their interest in members of the opposite sex in many different ways, however – many of the first signs of attraction are non-verbal. How do we flirt non-verbally? Are there differences in the ways that males and females non-verbally show interest in a potential romantic partner? This paper will offer a review of the academic literature on this topic, explicitly exploring the extent of non-verbal flirtation and also focusing on the differences between sexes. How do the ways that men and women flirt non-verbally differentiate?
Research has clearly established that most communication is non-verbal. The research done by Henningsen, Braz and Davies discusses why we flirt, and the six motivations behind flirting (2008). These motivations are sexual, relational, exploring, esteem, instrumental and fun. It is important to first understand why humans flirt before one can understand the differences between verbal and non-verbal flirting and furthermore, the differences between the ways that males and females flirt. La France, Henningsen, Oates and Shaw found that research suggest that men decode verbal and nonverbal communication cues differently than do women, and this difference results in men’s tendency to rate individuals more highly in levels of these social-sexual constructs than do women (2009). They also found differences in the sexes in perceptions of flirtatiousness, seductiveness, and promiscuousness. Henningsen found that sex differences emerge for sex and exploration motivations, with men reporting greater levels of each than women (2008). Men tend to view women’s behaviors as more sexual than do women in cross-sex interactions (e.g., Abbey, 1982).
This difference may result because men view specific behaviors as sexually motivated, whereas women attribute a different motivation to the behaviors. It is proposed that people flirt for a variety of different reasons including the desire to increase sexual interaction. Six flirting motivations derived from the literature are considered in this study: sex, fun, exploring, relational, esteem, and instrumental. The motivations attributed to flirting behaviors by men and women in typical flirting interactions are explored. Gender differences emerge for several flirting motivations (i.e., sex, relational, and fun). Men tend to view flirting as more sexual than women do, and women attribute more relational and fun motivations to flirting interactions than do men. This research is important to understand within the Communication discipline because so much of our communication is non-verbal. When relationships are often initiated because of non-verbal communication, we cannot make sense of the rest of the relationship unless we understand the first interactions.
Much research has been done on the difference between the different ways the sexes communicate their sexual attraction for one another. Research has shown men perceive more sexual interest from female targets than do women in cross-sex interactions (e.g., Abbey, 1982). A study utilizing a 2 (sex of participants) x 2 (flirting cue: verbal or nonverbal) ANOVA design was employed to test whether cue usage influenced sex differences in perceptions of sexual interest. The results of this study indicated sex of participant and cue usage interact to predict perceptions of sexual interest. Results are discussed with regard to sex differences in cue preferences and cue explicitness.
La France, Henningsen, Oates and Shaw preformed a study to assess the degree to which men and women make differential judgments of flirtatiousness, seductiveness, and promiscuousness during cross-sex interactions. Findings from their research suggested that men decode verbal and nonverbal communication cues differently than do women, and this difference results in men’s tendency to rate individuals more highly in levels of these social-sexual constructs than do women (2009).
This study depicts the results of three meta-analyses that provided estimates of the magnitude of the sex differences in perceptions of flirtatiousness, seductiveness, and promiscuousness and argues that these results are consistent with error management theory (2009). Sex of target and mode of observation interacted to impact observed sex differences. Sex differences were strongest for female targets when research participants were observers of face-to-face interactions (average r=.32), whereas sex differences in evaluations of flirtatiousness, seductiveness, and promiscuousness were strongest for participants who were rating male targets in face-to-face interactions (average r=.36).
Jeffery Hall, Michael Cody, Grace Jackson and Jacqueline Flesh studied how women approach relationship initiation strategies that men put in to action. In the first study, the women identified the different strategies that men use, and there were over 500 that were found; some including affiliation and explicitness, but not dominance, and predicted flirtatiousness. In Study 2, 361 females participated in a 2 x 4 experiment that explored the effects of physical attractiveness and four approach communication strategies on ratings of affiliation (Abrahams, 1994). Attractive men were more successful overall and a wider range of verbal strategies were rated as successful, compared to less attractive males. Fewer effective statements were available to less attractive males.
Research has been done that concludes that women face a unique pressure to satisfy communal goals and are held to a different standard of “niceness” which can be seen in the way that they non verbally communicate with males in flirting. Berger, Sackman, Olide and Dennehy preformed a study that examined women flirting under this stereotype. In this study, women under “threat” exhibited increased nonverbal flirtation-consistent behaviors, likely indicating a conflict between idealized and actual behaviors. To achieve likeability (and possibly to avoid gender backlash), the societal norm is that women are encouraged to employ non-sexually motivated flirtation behaviors. This expectation is simultaneously “in the air” (Chan-Serafin, Bradley, Brief, & Watkins, 2005) and broadcasted in the media, such as in a recent Forbes.com article, which urged women to “flirt their way to the top” (Goudreau, 2010). Furthermore, men perceived women under threat as signaling increased sexual intent.
In a study at a college university, women were also asked to infer how men would interpret women’s dating behaviors. Women were predicted to make inferences less probative of sexual consent than the men. They made inferences more probative than men’s interpretations. The results supported the idea that the differences were due almost entirely to male/female differences-not personality differences. There was also some evidence that those who were not sexually active tended to judge many behaviors quite differently than those who were. One example of this was denying any connection between their behavior and sexual consent. The main idea to be gathered from this study was that the differences in the ways that males and females flirt non verbally has do with the individual male and female and not so much to do with the differences in the genders.
This study, preformed by Brandi Frisby, Megan Dillow, Shelbie Gaughan and John examined experimentally induced flirtatious interactions (2011). 252 United States undergraduates from the Mid-Atlantic region viewed a flirtatious interaction and rated a confederate on physical and social attraction, affiliation, dominance, and conversational effectiveness. It was thought that different flirting motivations would lead to different evaluations of the flirters, and perceptions of flirters would vary based on gender. Results revealed that men were evaluated as more dominant than women when flirting, but surprisingly, dominance in men was not perceived as attractive or conversationally effective. In addition, men’s attraction to women increased significantly when women flirted for sexual motives, and women’s attraction to men decreased significantly when men flirted for fun.
Looking at this topic from a different point of view, Woogan and Parasi preformed a study that looked at the different ways males and females communicate compliments to one another. This study found that compliment topics obviously varied by gender: males gave females a higher proportion of compliments on appearance than skill and females did the opposite, giving males a higher proportion of compliments on skill than appearance (2006). Two overlapping explanations for these differences were found: 1) females feel a relatively greater need to be cautious when giving appearance compliments to males, for fear of seeming too forward or attracting unwanted attention; 2) social norms place greater emphasis on appearance for females and skills for males. While the latter explanation has been noted previously, the former, the role of flirtation, has received scant attention, despite its crucial role in compliment behaviors (2006).
Buss and Alberts (1988, 1998) suggest that women often talk about their physical bodies, which should therefore indicate good health, youthfulness and fertility. In contrast, some of the important desirable characteristics for men include physical dominance and an ability to produce resources (e.g., social status, ambition and high income). Men rate physical attractiveness as an important quality in a partner more highly than women (Kenrick, Sadalla, Groth, & Trost, 1990; Travis, 1977) and women give higher ratings to traits reflecting dominance and social status (Kenrick, Groth, Trost, & Sadalla, 1993; Kenrick et al., 1990). If men and women place more importance on some attractive qualities than others, we would in turn expect men and women to flirt in different ways in order to accentuate the desired characteristics. Moore (1985) contends that women are not passive in the courting process but rather control much of the flirting process.
Her research has observed women in places such as singles bars. She identified 52 different nonverbal displays by women, which she argued were courtship signals that served to attract and elicit the approach of men. These included gestures such as facial and head patterns, smiling, laughing, touch, leaning and primping. In addi- tion to Moore’s (1985) research, others have argued that women possess a larger repertoire of flirtation strategies used to signal interest in men (e.g., Muehlenhard, Koralewski, Andrews, & Burdick, 1986). Hall (1984), for instance, has claimed that women gaze at interaction partners more, and use touch and body movements more in interpersonal interactions. McCormick and Jones (1989) observed 70 couples and found that women were more active participants in flirtation and were often the initiators of the flirtation. Trost and Alberts (1998) reported that, in con- trast to women, men were more likely to flirt by signalling status and dominance, which is often achieved by flashing money, exaggerating their income, wearing expensive clothes, bragging about their superior intelligence, and exaggerating their level of sexual popularity.
These gender differences are not simply confined to face-to-face encounters. Research conducted in the 1970s found that women in personal ads were more likely to offer attractiveness and seek financial security, while men were more likely to offer financial security and seek attractiveness (Harrison & Saeed, 1977). Smith, Waldorf and Trembath (1990) analysed personal ads from six issues of On the Scene magazine from January 1989 to June 1989. They were interested in what attractive qualities individuals were seeking in a partner. Not surprisingly, these researchers found that physical attractiveness was the highest-ranking quality desired by men, and in fact appeared more than twice as often in men’s ads than it did in women’s. Women, in contrast, were more likely to hope for a man who was understanding, emotionally healthy and financially stable. Koestner and Wheeler (1988) examined what attractive features men and women were more likely to emphasize about themselves in lonely-hearts columns. Again, these researchers found that men were more likely than women were to emphasize their own educational and occupational status.
The heightened disassociation between verbal versus nonverbal flirtation-consistent behaviors under threat is consistent with women’s self-reports about disavowing flirtatiousness consciously (Pronin et al., 2004) but illuminates actual and more implicit behaviors that deviate from self-reports (see Dovidio et al., 2002). Verbal behaviors might reflect conscious and therefore idealized3 self-conceptions, consistent with Higgins’ (1987) Self-Discrepancy Theory. It is possible that under threat, women’s (a) ideal self, does not incorporate the use of flirtation; but (b) ought self, simultaneously encourages less explicit nonverbal flirtation-consistent behaviors, reflecting sociocultural norms that place an onus on women (versus men) to be communal/likeable (Rudman & Glick, 2001). Men tend to view women’s behaviors as more sexual than do women in cross-sex interactions (e.g., Abbey, 1982). This difference may result because men view specific behaviors as sexually motivated, whereas women attribute a different motivation to the behaviors. It is proposed that people flirt for a variety of different reasons including the desire to increase sexual interaction.
Six flirting motivations derived from the literature are considered in this study: sex, fun, exploring, relational, esteem, and instrumental. The motivations attributed to flirting behaviors by men and women in typical flirting interactions are explored. Gender differences emerge for several flirting motivations (i.e., sex, relational, and fun). Men tend to view flirting as more sexual than women do, and women attribute more relational and fun motivations to flirting interactions than do men. No gender differences emerge for esteem, exploring, or instrumental motivations. The discussion focuses on how miscommunication may occur during flirting interactions. Many conclusions can be drawn from all of the research done regarding the differences in the ways that males and females express attraction towards one another.
Flirting occurs because of a sexual attraction to a member of the opposite sex, and also because of the six flirting “motivations:” sexual, relational, exploring, esteem, instrumental and fun. Most studies show that males have a much more dominant, aggressive way of approaching females. There is also a significant amount of miscommunication in the way that females want to be perceived, and the way they actually are. Much research shows that females are often perceived differently than the way that they attempt to portray themselves. Men often view the way that women flirt as much more sexual than what the women think they are demonstrating to the male.
When they flirt, men want to send a message of strength, dominance, trustworthiness, and good genes. This is why men do things like puff out their chests, lean back in their chairs, and strut when they walk. Women flirt to communicate that they’re interested, and that they offer something a little better than other women. There is also research that suggests that women flirt for some sort of “gain.” Whether that be power, or something that the male that they are flirting with has. This is where the expression “flirt to the top” stems from. When men and women flirt, they are following a predictable pattern of behavior that’s similar to all humans in romantic relationships.