Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

Blatant works best when picking up men

Posted in news by jenapincott on July 21, 2009

l35b631350000_1_9129 In BLONDES I wrote about the pick-up lines men use to strike up conversation with women. Direct compliments were bad, sexual come-ons worse. The most effective lines involved those that suggested social status (“This drink’s on me; I know the owner.”) and kindness (“Let me help you get to the front of the line”) or culture and wealth (“I like your Versace sunglasses. I’ve got a pair too.”)

But given that women also approach men, what pick-up lines should women use?

The answer is direct no-nonsense lines, according to a recent study led by Joel Wade at Bucknell University. Wade and his colleagues asked 40 female undergrads which lines they’d use to pick up a guy, and how likely they’d use those lines in a real-life situation. More than 30 men were than asked to evaluate the lines.

The results:

“Hey, want to meet up later tonight?”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“I like your hair”
“Give me a call – here’s my number”

trumped the more subtle
“Hello, how’s it going?”
“Hey, what’s your name?”
“How was your weekend?”

and humorous/sexual comments (e.g. “Your shirt matches my bed spread, basically you belong in my bed”).

The more direct, the better. One interpretation of these findings is that men have a distaste for subtlety. Studies show that men have an overestimation bias — they’re more likely to think a woman is interested in them even when she’s not — so any blatant reinforcement is welcome. A direct pick-up line also suggests a more sexually motivated woman. She wants you, not just a chat.

I find it odd that men weren’t more responsive to direct sexual/humorous come-ons by women; I suspect it depends on the context and delivery. (The sample lines in the study were also real duds.) Or it supports the theory that many men don’t prefer sexually aggressive women. Even if a woman makes the first foray, men like a pursuit.

All this leads me to point to the limitations of studies such as this one. Men were asked to rate pick-up lines, but the effectiveness of the lines was not tested in an actual situation. See, guys are visual creatures; a direct pick-up line won’t work if they don’t find the woman attractive. And assuming the woman is comely enough, I suspect any come-on would work equally well.

2 Responses

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  1. Andrew Samtoy said, on July 22, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Your point about limitations in this study is spot-on. At the same time, for many men, I suspect that the woman would have to be absolutely stunning in order for some of the more straight-forward lines to work; otherwise, the thinking goes, “if she’s this forward with me, she must be this forward with every guy…so what diseases does she have?”

  2. doubleclicktf said, on August 24, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Subtle lines might work less well because of the consequences of being wrong. I would be terrified of misreading a subtle indirect line or something that might just have been a joke or just said for fun, whereas I know where I am if I hear something more direct (and then that pressure is off).


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