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Posted at 11:52 AM ET, 12/22/2010

The science of playing hard to get

By Ezra Klein

I'm not single anymore, but back when I was, I found the idea of "playing hard to get" fairly confusing. The people I knew who had the most success in the dating world seemed to be the best at conveying interest, which in turn appeared to make potential partners more willing show interest back. And that made sense: If you assume that one of the major preferences people have is not to be rejected, then making it clear that they won't be rejected should smooth the path forward. But that was just my theory. This, however, is a peer-reviewed paper testing it. And it turns out I was semi-wrong:

This research qualifies a social psychological truism: that people like others who like them (the reciprocity principle). College women viewed the Facebook profiles of four male students who had previously seen their profiles. They were told that the men (a) liked them a lot, (b) liked them only an average amount, or (c) liked them either a lot or an average amount (uncertain condition). Comparison of the first two conditions yielded results consistent with the reciprocity principle. Participants were more attracted to men who liked them a lot than to men who liked them an average amount. Results for the uncertain condition, however, were consistent with research on the pleasures of uncertainty. Participants in the uncertain condition were most attracted to the men -- even more attracted than were participants who were told that the men liked them a lot. Uncertain participants reported thinking about the men the most, and this increased their attraction toward the men.

So then the best strategy is playing hard to get, which is to say, creating "the uncertain condition." But if you're not going to do that, then it's better to be very clear that you like someone rather than merely hinting around at it.

By Ezra Klein  | December 22, 2010; 11:52 AM ET
 
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Comments

Pro tip (yes, I am spreading this one all over the internets): Don't take a person home to meet your mother, and THEN say you can't commit. It's ridiculous. Meanwhile, congrats to Ezra and Annie on a wonderful future together, which they have undoubtedly achieved by acting like a couple of actual grown-ups.

No. I'm not bitter. Why do you ask?

Posted by: ajw_93 | December 22, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

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