‘He loves me, he loves me not…’: Women are more attracted to men whose feelings are unclear

Are you still looking for a date for Valentine’s Day? Here’s some dating advice straight from the laboratory: It turns out there may be something to “playing hard to get.” A study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that a woman is more attracted to a man when she is uncertain about how much he likes her.

On the one hand, a lot of psychological research has found that person A usually likes person B about as much as they think person B likes them. “If we want to know how much Sarah likes Bob, a good predictor is how much she thinks Bob likes her,” write the authors of the paper, Erin R. Whitchurch and Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University. “But what if Sarah is not sure how much Bob likes her?” This might lead Sarah to spend a lot of time thinking about Bob, wondering how he feels, and she might find him more attractive the more she dwells on him.

Forty-seven female undergraduates at the University of Virginia participated in the study. Each student, who believed that the experiment was designed to study whether Facebook could work as an online dating site, was told that male students from two other universities had viewed her profile and those of 15 to 20 other females. Then the women were shown four men’s Facebook profiles that they thought were real, but were actually fictitious. Some of the women were told they’d seen the four men who liked them the most; others were told these were four men who rated them about average. A third group were told the men could be either the ones who liked them most or the ones who liked them about average — so those women didn’t know about the level of the men’s interest in them.

As other research has found, women who believed the men liked them a lot were more attracted to the men than women who thought the men liked them only an average amount. However, the women who found the men most attractive were the ones who weren’t sure whether those men were into them or not.

“Numerous popular books advise people not to display their affections too openly to a potential romantic partner and to instead appear choosy and selective,” the authors write. Women in this study made their decisions based on very little information on the men — but in a situation not unlike meeting someone on an internet dating site, which is common these days. “When people first meet, it may be that popular dating advice is correct: Keeping people in the dark about how much we like them will increase how much they think about us and will pique their interest.”

For more information about this study, please contact Erin Whitchurch at [email protected].

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “‘He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not…’: Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Keri Chiodo at 202-293-9300 or [email protected].

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8 thoughts on “‘He loves me, he loves me not…’: Women are more attracted to men whose feelings are unclear”

  1. I am attracted to two sisters who are different with distinct personalities. One is such a cheerful person and the other is seriously serene. I am attracted to my boss’s gf because she is such a handy woman. I am attracted to a colleague who happens to be very funny.
    I am attracted by the quirks and wit a certain First Lady. Oh please and I haven’t gotten over my attraction over three of my past loves.

    And am no longer a teenager. I offer no excuse for this fickle heart.

  2. Does anyone else roll their eyes and immediately disregard studies that open up with big claims, then reveal that the entire population studied was college undergraduates?

    College undergraduates are:
    – legal adults, but often still self-absorbed teenagers
    – a seriously biased portion of the overall population, even at the same age
    – those who volunteer for these studies are likewise a self-selected small minority of the undergraduate population

    These findings, just like the other 95% of published social science research, are close to worthless, just on this basis alone.

  3. So…message to nice guys everywhere: Remember to be an occasional a-hole in order to NOT be dumped for REAL a-holes.
    Painful lesson learned. Ladies, you suck.

  4. I’ve noticed that women will fall all over you until you tell them you love them, then they act like you are their property, and no longer worry about doing things you may hate, and start becomming more critical and demanding.. They constantly criticise men for never expressing their feelings. But once a man does, they lose.

    Of course men do a similar thing with women, but in their case it is having sex for the first time, rather than hearing the I love you words. They will do anything for the gal before having sex, but are much less attentative after.

  5. Women enjoy relationships and potential mates with whom they get to remain indecisive and non-comital toward; while, simultaneously, men live in a society where their potentially non-comital attitudes are derided as juvenile by a large segment of the female population.

    Hypocrisy as a partly biological phenomenon is absolutely shocking, I tell you.

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