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This Facial Expression May Signal You’re Flirting, According to a New Study

Woman sitting on a stoop and smiling coyly with her head tilted

We know communication is so much more than the words we say alone. It also includes intonation (the melodic pattern of our speech), and nonverbal communication (read: body language, pheromones, and more). A lot of it, of course, also comes down to our facial expressions. 

It turns out science can now tell us when we’re putting our flirt on, based on that facial expression. 

Specifically, research from the University of Kansas determined there are some universally-recognizable tell-tale facial expressions that indicate our “mating intention” science-speak for our interest in a partner (this study specifically examined women’s interest in men, though we know of course our sexual interests may very well go beyond heteronormative intentions to procreate).  

The four key components of that flirty expression include:

  • A head turned to one side 
  • Tilted down slightly
  • A slight smile
  • Eyes turned forward (toward the implied target) 

Related: How to slide into your crush’s DM the right way.

This particular combination of expressions had a unique effect on the men in the study, leading them to be more sensitive to words relating to sex and to effectively prompting more sexual thoughts.

Other nonverbal flirting behaviours that have already been identified include sustained eye contact, smiling, coy gazing and self-touching.

“As sexual creatures, people need to secure a mate to reproduce. Securing a sexual mate often necessitates the identification of an appropriate, and preferably available and willing, mate and the communication of interest in them. Effective communication should facilitate mating, whereas ineffective communication could result in negative outcomes for both sides.”

And should you be curious, other nonverbal flirting behaviours that have already been identified include sustained eye contact, smiling, coy gazing and self-touching. Sound familiar? 

Related: It takes nine minutes for your average grownup to text a new lover.

“Flirting behaviors tend to be displayed by both people involved in the initiation process, providing them with a way to communicate their interest while possibly evoking interest from their potential mate,” the study said.

The study also notes that ambiguity is key here too because it allows the flirter to feel out a situation before firmly committing, while also giving them room to back out if the target isn’t reciprocating. 


So next time you’re speaking to a prospective love interest, see how many of these you notice yourself doing (and in turn picking up on). 

See also: How to have safer sex during a pandemic.

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