A recent study claims to have discovered the ultimate non-verbal signs of attraction, but do they really apply to everyone?
Every time we start liking someone new, we want them to like us back just as much as we do, or even more. So, one of the most anxiety-ridden moments when we go on a first date with someone is trying to figure out if they’re really into us or just getting through the date. So, what do we do when we really want this person to like us back? We obsessively look on the Internet or magazines for information that can help us analyze every single body movement and facial expression that can prove they’re into us. I mean, I'm not judging, I’ve probably done it tons of times, but is it really effective?
Let’s be honest. Most of the time, these so-called signs are just a nonsensical overreading of situations that might not say anything about what a person thinks about us. It’s true that we can convey many messages with our body and facial language, but do these really have a universal and objective meaning not related to every particular situation? I don’t think so. Most of these articles that claim to have a great list of behaviors that say if a person is attracted to you include things like women flicking their hair as a flirtatious sign, lifting our eyebrows, dressing nice, or even leaning over the person we like. Well, let me tell you that I flick my hair quite often and that doesn’t mean anything at all, and apparently, according to a new study, it doesn’t mean anything to most people.
In May of this year, R. Matthew Montoya (associate professor of Psychology at the University of Dayton), along with a group of researchers, published the results of a study they called "A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Relation Between Interpersonal Attraction and Enacted Behavior." For them, the common belief that these attitudes and behaviors are signs of attraction is just a myth that has been perpetuated through many media. They, however, did find out that there are five main signs or behaviors that most people follow to show we are interested. These five signs are: making eye contact, smiling, initiating a conversation, laughing, and keeping physical proximity.
I know what you might be thinking: these are really general behaviors that we can have towards basically anyone without necessarily being attracted to them. So, what’s the deal with the research and how come they reached a kind of obvious result? For starters, this new psychological study researched on over 50 different published studies focused on non-verbal behaviors and attitudes that claim to determine if a person is attracted to someone. All of these studies used an empiric approach to the subject, meaning that the results aren’t entirely measurable nor universal, per se. Still, one of the praiseworthy aspects of the subject is the fact that they also teamed with a group of ethnographers to take into account different social circumstances and realities over the world to reach their results, which could explain why they can be quite generalized.
Now, it's important to point out one emphasis that the study makes and that we don’t really think about that much, and that is that liking and wanting to establish a connection with someone depends highly on trust, and these signs are attitudes we have to create a trust bond with another person. As Montoya claims, “when we like someone, we act in ways to get them to trust us.” So, more than behaving in ways to attract someone physically, these signs’ main purpose is to make that person trust us, to see us as a trustworthy person to share something with.
More importantly, and quite interesting to bear in mind, is that they don’t refer only to attraction to romantic relationships. They actually talk about attraction in a more literal sense of the word: it’s that feeling of being drawn to a person. So, as Montoya explains, apart from dating, understanding these basic behaviors and signs can also be helpful to relate to others either for professional matters or even just to make friends with someone.
For me, that’s perhaps that’s the greatest value of their research, though I wouldn’t know if they actually meant it this way, so let’s call it my interpretation. Yes, these are really basic behaviors we share as a species, but they don’t necessarily mean that if a person has them towards us they’re actually romantically or passionately attracted to us, but that they actually want to establish a bond of proximity and trust. Now, I would also handle this with care, since it’s also quite probable that we’re interpreting their expressions and non-verbal signs in the way we want. So, to sum things up, if you’re really into someone, the best way to know if they’re into you is by being direct and asking them. Don’t go crazy trying to analyze every "sign," just enjoy the experience and if you really want to know, ask, they won't bite.
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Images by @geschichtenvonsimon