In 59 Seconds, he fights back, bringing together the diverse scientific advice that can help you change your life in under a minute, and guides you toward becoming more decisive, more imaginative, more engaged, and altogether more happy.
How much we desire and treasure an object depends, in part, on how easy it is to obtain.
A jar crammed full of cookies suggests that the contents are plentiful. In contrast, a nearly empty jar suggests that the contents are scarce, and therefore significantly more desiderable.
Exactly the same effect explains why collectors spend millions on limited editions, people are attracted to books or films that have been banned, and retailers are quick to point out limited stocks.
But does it also apply to dating?
It is a question, that has taxed some of the world’s greatest minds. The classical Greek philosopher Socrates, when advising the prostitute Theodota on the best way to attract men, clearly preferred the ‘play hard to get’ strategy, noting:
They will appreciate your favours most highly if you wait till they ask for them. The swetest meats, you see, if served before they are wanted, seem sour, and to those who had enough they are positively nauseating: but even poor fare is very welcome when offered to a hungry man.
A few hundred years later the great Roman poet Ovid was moved to agree:
Fool. If you feel no need to guard your girl for her own sake, guard her for mine, so I may want her more. Easy things nobody wants, but what is forbidden is tempting… Anyone who can love the wife of an indolent cuckold, I should suppose, would steal buckets of sand from the shore.
The wise words of Socrates and Ovid are echoed in many modern-day books about dating. Time and again, people are advised to play it cool and make any potential love of their life do the running.
But does playing hard to get really work?
To find out, Elaine Hartfield from the University of Hawaii and her colleagues conducted a series of fascinating and, at times, odd studies. In the first of these, students were shown photographs and brief biographies of teenage couples and asked to rate how desirable they found each member of the couple. Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, the students gave much higher ratings to those people who had declared their undying love within moments of meeting their partner, leading them to conclude that it appears that ‘all the world loves a lover.’
This time the research team asked a group of women who signed up with a dating agency to help out. Whenever a man telephoned them for a date, they were asked to respond in one of two ways. On half of the calls they were to accept immediately (‘easy’), while the rest of the time they would pause for precisely three seconds before saying yes (‘hard to get’). Once again the team discovered that playing hard to get did not affect the ratings.
In yet another study the women with the dating agency either rapidly accepted any offer of a date (‘easy’) or paused, explained that they had received countless offers and then rather begrundginly arranged for just a coffee (‘hard to get’). This time, the results revealed absolutely no effect.
Desperate the researchers did what many people do when the going gets tough in the heady world of dating: they turned to prostitution. The research team then monitored and found no relationship between the prostitute playing hard and the return rate.
Hartfield and the team asked a group of men whether they would rather date someone who was eager to have a relationship or someone who made others do all of the running. Most said that there were pros and cons for each option.
Being able to attract a mate is not just about conveying the magic ‘I am choosy, and I have chosen you’ impression. Instead, research into the psychology of dating has uncovered a number of equally quick but effective ways of making your attraction to someone a mutual affair. All you need is a simple touch, an afternoon at a theme park, and the confidence to ask people about their favorite pizza topping.
Why is the touch so effective when flirting?
Many psychologists believe that the answer has to do with sex and status.
A large body of research supports the not especially surprising fact that woman find high-status men more attractive than their low-status counterparts. From an evolutionary perspective, those men represent ideal mates because they are able to provide for the couple and any potential offspring in times of need.
But how do women decide on the status of a stranger within a few moments of meeting him?
The answer, in part, is touch.
There is a considerable evidence that a gentle touch is perceived as a sign of high status. For example, ask people to look at photographs of one person touching another, and they consistently rate the ‘toucher’ as far dominant than the ‘touchee’. This is especially true of that all-important male-to-female touch on the upper arm.
Most women don’t consciously register the touch, but unconsciously it makes them think more highly of their potential beau.
Women frequently accuse men of being shallow and too easily influenced by a pair of large breasts. Guéguen’s adventures with hitchhiking and latex certainly suggest that this is the case. However his work in the psychology of female seduction shows that women’s romantic decision making can also be swayed by physical factors, providing they signal high status. Perhaps the real message is that deep down we are all a tad more shallow that we might like to admit.
IN 59 SECONDS
[bluebox] If you want to get someone to help you out, try the briefest of touches on the upper arm. The same behavior also increases the likelihood that one person will find another person attractive, providing that the touch is short, confined to the upper arm, and delivered at the same time as a compliment or request.[/bluebox]
Complement 59 Seconds with The Science of Attraction.