Before I get into the topic at hand, I should quickly point out that this isn't your average HowStuffWorks.com blog post. Typically, we don't include videos of ourselves yammering on about a blog topic, but in this instance, I wanted to demonstrate these hard-and-fast Cosmo tips for attracting a man since they're all about gesture and pose rather than speech. HowStuffWorks.com videographer extraordinaire Tyler Klang of Stuff of Genius fame graciously filmed and produced the instructional below, so I owe him many thanks (and baked goods).
In an earlier post on Cosmo's regular segment on analyzing celebrity couple photos, I noted that body language is one of the magazine's favorite topics. Many of their how-to-date articles revolve around sending and receiving nonverbal cues, and the Web site is teeming with related advice, such as How to Get Hit on Every Time and The Secret to Getting Any Guy that I talk about in the video. Now, Cosmo isn't off the mark in saying that nonverbal communication between men and women can broadcast attraction and repulsion. Psychology Today and a host of academics are all over the topic as well.
But here's the thing that Cosmo seems to miss about nonverbal communication when it urges readers to dangle stilettos and rub their necks -- men aren't all that good at picking up on it. A study conducted Coreen Farris of Indiana University's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences evaluated gender differences in interpreting body language and found that young men are particularly tongue-tied, if you will. Not only did men confuse women's friendly signals for sexual come-ons, some also interpreted 'come hither' gestures to mean 'let's be friends'. As LiveScience explains: "Rather than seeing the world through sex-colored glasses, men seemed just to have blurry vision of sorts, overall."
But heterosexual men might be at a slight disadvantage since women's sexual interest is typically harder to detect, which makes sense evolutionarily considering that females have a greater reproductive investment at stake when mating. For instance, a 2009 study published in Psychological Science evaluated males' and females' ability to spot other people's romantic intent by watching video clips of speed daters. Judging the clips of women daters was far more of a crapshoot for participants, while men's positive or negative interest was more readily apparent.
And whereas Cosmo outlines specific forms of body language for women to overemphasize their interest in a man (ie, shoe dangling, shoulder pitching and neck rubbing), research also shows that men and women naturally tend to compensate for gendered differences in body language when interacting and flirting with each other. Take head movement, for instance. While the Cosmo advises that women lower their chins and tilt their eyes upward toward guys they're hitting on, a study from the University of Virginia found that women naturally move their heads slightly less than normal when talking to men. At the same time, guys will actually move their heads a little bit more, which psychologists suggest allows both parties to meet in the nonverbal communication middle and facilitate empathy.
Similarly, a Netherlands analysis of "courtship initiation tactics" concluded that in addition to that compensating body language, men and women will also exhibit personal characteristics that align with the opposite sex, in terms of our socialized gender constructs. Specifically, "men stressed personal characteristics that are traditionally interpreted as female-valued (such as tenderness) more than women did, whereas women stressed characteristics that are traditionally interpreted as male-valued (such as being prestigiously occupied) more than men did." This, along with the head movements, represents verbal and nonverbal examples of synchrony, or posture mirroring that signals attraction (or harmony in more platonic circumstances) between two people.
So if in fact women are patently hard to for men to read in the first place, and both sexes have adopted innate strategies to mediate inherent body language differences, I have a hard time believing that women ought to perform a forced set of movements to supposedly project their availability and interest. Want to know what that Netherlands study also pointed out is "the most frequently used (cross-gender courtship) initiation tactic?" Eye contact. Plain and simple. Also, flirtatious nonverbal communication, such as my beloved head canting happens once someone has caught your eye; in other words, flirtatious body language occurs once someone sees something he or she likes - not the other way around. All the shoe dangling in the world isn't going to magically make a woman over to a dude whose neurotransmitters aren't firing off at the sight of her.
Obviously, body language isn't the simplest to speak and translate, and some are better at spitting it out than others. But telling women to dangle, rub and inexplicably mimic holding a fake baby (which incidentally turned up no related research or studies) only muddies the already murky waters of sexual signaling and nonverbal communication. And if Cosmo readers still aren't convinced to leave the litany of body language do's and dont's behind, here's a final study finding to ponder: at singles bars, women are responsible for courtship initiation approximately 70 percent of the time. Also, science says that when in doubt, men will err on the side of assuming women are into them. So instead of worrying about how to properly perch atop that bar stool, women ought to think more about what to say once they spot someone who suits their fancies.