Science says playing hard to get actually works

Why you should play it cool (but not too cool) when it comes to dating. (Getty Images)
Why you should play it cool (but not too cool) when it comes to dating. (Getty Images)

Our mothers used to tell us to play hard to get to attract the attention of our first crush, but science has revealed there may actually be some truth in that basic strategy.

A new study, by researchers from the University of Rochester and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, and published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, found that making the chase harder could increase a potential mate’s desirability. 

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While playing hard to get is a strategy adopted by many to attract a partner, previous research has failed to confirm whether playing it cool actually works and if so why.

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Particularly as previous research had found that those who feel their attention will be reciprocated will put in more effort into seeing that person again, than those who were less certain about how the person they were dating felt about them.

So the new research set out to prove whether viewing a prospective romantic partner as playing it hard to get kicked off sexual desire for that partner.

Interestingly, and not necessarily unsurprisingly, study authors found that immediately reciprocating another person’s interest isn’t actually the best strategy for attracting mates.  

Key takeaways from the research reveal that a person who is perceived as hard to get is associated with having a greater “mate value”.

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Study participants were also found to have made greater efforts on/and found more sexually desirable those potential dates they perceived as hard to get.

“People who are too easy to attract may be perceived as more desperate,” explains Gurit Birnhaum, a social psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the IDC Herzliya.

“That makes them seem less valuable and appealing than those who do not make their romantic interest apparent right away.” 

Co-author, Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester added: “We all want to date people with higher mate value. Were trying to make the best deal we can.”

Playing it cool is a good dating strategy, science says. (Getty Images)
Playing it cool is a good dating strategy, science says. (Getty Images)

But playing it cool is seen by some to be a bit of a risky play, with many worrying it could put off prospective partners who fear being rejected.

Reis acknowledges that holding back isn’t a one-way ticket to romance-ville for everyone every time.

“If playing hard to get makes you seem disinterested or arrogant,” he says, “it will backfire.”

A better strategy, therefore, could be to try and merge the two, playing it cool, while at the same time trying to remove the uncertainty and fear of rejection for wannabe mates.

Read more: How to date during lockdown

Birnham advises to show initial interest in potential partners, while not revealing too much about yourself too soon.

People are “less likely to desire what they already have,” she explains.

Instead, potential mates should try to build a connection gradually, in a bid to encourage “a sense of anticipation and a desire to learn more about the other person.” 

So by all means play a little hard to get but remember to offer a glimmer of hope to potential partners that their efforts might pay off in the end.

There is such a thing as playing it too cool ya know!

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