"You're such a flirt" is something that I've heard many times through out my life. I usually just shrug my shoulders and say, "I'm just friendly. It's totally harmless." I never thought that there was anything wrong with flirting, until I read this research article by David Henningsen (2004) entitled, "Flirting with meaning: An examination of miscommunication in flirting interactions." As we all know, miscommunication (about anything) can lead to many problems including frustration, arguments, mistakes, and the like. As this study shows, flirting is no exception, sending mixed messages between the sexes.
Henningsen (2004) examined 200 participants' responses about flirting interactions. Participants were each given descriptions of six common motivations for flirting, which included, relational, fun, sexual, exploring, esteem, and instrumental, and asked to assign these motivations to several flirting behaviors. Very few behaviors were identified as having instrumental (i.e. flirting to get something from the other person) or esteem (i.e. flirting to boost your own self-esteem) motivations, so they were not analyzed. Additionally, there were no significant differences between how men and women attributed flirting behaviors to exploring (or assessing whether another person is interested in you).
So, what did Henningsen (2004) discover?
1. Men attributed sexual motivations to flirting more than women did.
2. Women attributed relational (or flirting to intensify a relationship) and fun (or flirting because it is an enjoyable form of interaction) motivations to flirting more than men did.
What does all of this mean?Basically, when women are flirting (or see someone else flirting), they have (or think others have) the intentions of having fun or intensifying the relationship that they have with the person they are flirting with. On the other hand, men have (or think others have) the intentions of wanting to get it on. This kind of misunderstanding could be quite disastrous!
So, the real question is: Should women only flirt when they are sexually interested in another person (so that men don't get confused) or should men realize that flirtatious women are not always trying to get in their pants? I'll leave this one up to you.
- Henningsen, D. D. (2004). Flirting with meaning: An examination of miscommunication in flirting interactions. Sex Roles, 50, 481-489.
For more information about flirting and miscommunication between the sexes, see the following research articles:
- Abbey, A. (1982). Sex differences in attributions for friendly behavior: Do males misperceive female friendliness? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 830-838.
- Abbey, A. (1987). Misperceptions of friendly behavior as sexual interest: A survey of naturally occurring incidents. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 11, 173-194.
- Beck, S., Clabaugh, S. E., Clark, R. A., et al. (2007). Teasing among college men and women. Communication Studies, 58, 157-172.
- O'Farrell, K. J., Rosenthal, E. N., & O'Neal, E. C. (2003). Relationship satisfaction and responsiveness to nominates' flirtation: Testing an evolutionary explanation. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 20, 663-674.