Killer Pick Up Lines That Actually Work!

Photo by Namita Azad
Photo by Namita Azad
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The Challenge: It’s so hard to pick up a cute stranger!
The Science: Men and women prefer different pick-up lines!
The Solution: Understand what men and women dig and get back on the scene with confidence!

Every relationship begins with that first step. Some people never get past that first step. First impressions matter, and our opening few lines can either energize the interaction, or cause the other person to look around for the nearest exit. Gratefully, psychologists have spent years of celibacy trying to understand the psychology behind pick-up lines for your own benefit.

In the ’80s, Chris Kleinke and colleagues analyzed the effectiveness of 100 pick-up lines across a number of different settings, including bars, supermarkets, restaurants, laundromats, and beaches. They found three main categories of openers: direct gambits, which are honest and get right to the point (e.g, “I’m sort of shy, but I’d like to get to know you“),innocuous gambits, which hide a person’s true intentions (“e.g., “What do you think of this band?“), and cute/flippant gambits, which involve humor, but often in a cheesy, canned way (e.g., “Do you have any raisins? No? Well then, how about a date?“.)*

Both men and women agreed that cute/flippant pick-up lines were the least attractive. Women, however, preferred innocuous lines and had a greater aversion to cute/flippant lines than men, while men had a greater preference for direct opening gambits than women. This basic pattern has been found over and over again in a variety of settings, including singles bars. What’s going on?

Trait perception plays a crucial role. We don’t have direct access to a person’s characteristics, so we infer underlying traits from overt behaviors. One study found that people perceive those who use innocuous lines as smarter and sexier than those who use cute/flippant lines. Another study found that while women perceived men who use silly pick-up lines as more sociable, confident, and funny, they also perceived them as less trustworthy and intelligent. While all these traits are certainly valued in a mate, research shows that low trustworthiness and low intelligence are deal breakers for a long-term relationship, overriding other “luxuries”, such as humor and confidence.

Women are rightfully skeptical of cute/flippant pick-up lines: research shows that those with a long-term mating strategy tend to use supportive and honest pick-up strategies, whereas those with a short-term strategy tend to use manipulation and dishonesty. I should note that when a woman is looking for a short-term fling, it may be an entirely different story: one study conducted on college students found that women were willing to have a short-term fling with men they were attracted to, regardless of the content of his pick-up lines! More stable individual differences also play a role, with extraverts and those with a general orientation toward hook-ups vs. long-term committed relationships, more receptive to humor and sexually charged pick-up lines.

This article originally appeared at Psychology Today.

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Scott Barry Kaufman
Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute and a researcher in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he investigates the nature, measurement and development of imagination. In his book, Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, Kaufman presents a holistic approach to achievement that takes into account each person’s ability, engagement, and personal goals. Kaufman is also co-founder of The Creativity Post, and he writes the blog Beautiful Minds for Scientific American Mind.
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