Nonverbal Flirtation

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Non-Verbal Flirtation:
How do the ways that men and women flirt non-verbally differentiate?

Jessica Lane Sperry
University of Portland

Sperry 2
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 Sperry 3

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 Sperry 4
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...
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