Dec. 20, 2012 at 8:05 AM ET
When looking for love, dating books and well-meaning friends may advise guys and gals to play hard-to-get. And now pretending not to be interested in a potential partner to increase your desirability is gaining some scientific support: A new study suggests that if you want a serious relationship, it pays for men and women to be hard-to-get.
According to the research, one potential benefit of playing hard-to-get is attracting a higher-quality mate with the greatest level of commitment for a long-term relationship.
In the study, published in the European Journal of Personality, psychology researchers ran four different experiments to determine how and why people play hard-to-get and if or when it works in attracting a mate.
In one test, they identified the ways people play hard-to-get and how often men and women use them. From a list of 58 strategies, nearly 500 American college students rated 'acting confident' and 'talking to others' as the two most commonly used methods of playing hard-to-get.
But there were slight differences in strategies between the sexes. When gals acted coy they tended 'not to call,' 'not to talk a lot,' and 'to stay busy,' more than guys did.
When guys wanted to appear less available, they used only three methods more than gals did including 'acting snooty or rude,' 'saying all the right things but not calling,' and 'treating others like s#@t.'
Not surprisingly to anyone who's been single, researchers found that women played hard-to-get more often than men did.
"Women derive more benefit from playing hard-to-get because it allows them to test men out and increase the demand men place on them," says study author Peter Jonason, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Western Sydney in Australia.
"Because women have greater value in the biological mating market, they can afford to play hard-to-get more than men can," he explains. "Men who are too hard-to-get may miss out on a mating opportunity."
A second experiment of nearly 300 U.S. college students identified the top two reasons for playing hard-to-get were to increase demand (to make a romantic partner want someone more) and to test a partner's willingness to commit (to gauge interest and keep up a mate's pursuit).
The study also found that for a committed romantic relationship, women preferred a man who was medium in availability (not too easy or too hard-to-get) while guys preferred a gal with low availability (harder to get).
For a hookup, the results suggest a different story: If you're a women looking for casual sex, it does not pay to be hard to get. But if you're a man looking for a casual fling, it pays to be impossible to get, says Jonason.
And when it came to spending money and time on a potential romantic partner, 425 college students revealed that the less available a person is, the more a prospective mate is willing to invest time and money in him or her.
The researchers admit that since their study only looked at college students their results may not apply to other age groups of single people. But their findings indicate some of the games people play when dating.
"We all would want honesty in dating but this is never going to happen," says Jonason. "We are not overtly lying, but we're always trying to marry up."