A taxonomy of 52 "nonverbal solicitation behaviors" observed in flirting women has been garnered by Dr. Monica Moore, a psychologist at Webster University in St. Louis. In her research, conducted in singles bars, shopping malls and other places young people go to meet those of the opposite sex, Dr. Moore has found that the women who send flirtatious signals most frequently are most likely to be approached by men-even more so than are women who are rated as more attractive.
"It's not who's most physically appealing," said Dr. Moore, "but the woman who's signaling availability that men approach."
Flirting is the opening gambit in a continuing series of negotiations at every step of the way in courtship. Indeed, the first negotiation point is signaled by the flirtatious look itself.
"When a man is looking at a woman and she senses it, her first decision is, 'Do I have further interest in him?'" said Dr. Beverly Palmer, a psychologist at California State University in Dominguez Hills who has studied flirting. "If so, by flirting she sends the next signal: 'I'm interested in you, and yes, you can approach me.'"
Once the conversation begins, there is "a major escalation point," said Dr. Fisher.
"The woman has a whole new basis for judging the man," she said. "A large number of prospective pickups end here."
Though men may say they are well aware of the tentativeness of flirting, Dr. Buss's findings suggest a male tendency-at least among college-age men-toward wishful thinking in interpreting flirtatious looks. In settings where men and women go to meet someone of the opposite sex, Dr. Buss said, "we find that when you ask men what it means for a woman to smile at them, they interpret it as a sexual invitation."
"But when you ask women what it means," he continued, "they'll say it just indicates she wants to get to know him better."
In interviews with 208 college-age men and women published in The Journal of Sex Research, Dr. Buss and colleagues found that when it comes to seduction, "the sexual signals that work for women backfire for men."
"There's a huge sex difference in how effective different tactics are," he added.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the research showed that for women, direct sexual approaches-dressing seductively, dancing close, staring into a man's eyes-worked well in leading to sexual contact. But for men similar direct strategies were failures.
Instead, for men the less overtly seductive tried-and-true romantic strategems fared best. "For men the most effective approaches are displays of love and commitment," said Dr. Buss. "Telling her he really loves her, that he cares and is committed. (February 14, 1995, C1)