New Straits Times
Study: Playing hard to get increases romantic attraction
ONE of the most elusive dating tactics since the beginning of time has to be “playing hard to get”. Although Socrates had famously advised courtesan Theodote to boost her attraction by withholding her affections until men are “hungry” with desire, playing hard to get remains a strategy many yearn to master in a romantic relationship — as seen today by the prevalence of advice-on-dating columns or the Internet.
However, research have yielded little support for the efficacy, or inefficacy, of this tactic, and those who had the chance to execute it in real life might realise it often led to ambivalent results.
Previous studies that downplay the efficacy of playing hard to get are based on a golden rule of interpersonal attraction that we like those who like us. On the other hand, other studies challenging this argue that uncertainty elicited by playing hard to get would enhance engagement and motivation.
So, what is the psychology behind playing hard to get, and what contributes to its success or failure? The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School conducted a study to reconcile existing divergent findings while also verifying a time-honoured folk theory.
The researchers — CUHK Business School Department of Marketing Associate Professor Xianchi Dai with PhD students Ping Dong and Jayson S. Jia — collaborated to find out when playing hard to get did increase romantic attraction.
They conducted two experiments: a mental simulation and a speed-dating study. The results were published in the The students all chose to meet the most attractive partner. To boost their commitment, they were asked to explain the reasons for their choice and to email the female they were to date by introducing themselves ahead of the meeting.
For those under the no-commitment condition, they were told that a dating partner would be assigned to them. All participants had to fill in a pre-meeting questionnaire to report their commitment and expectations.
The female partner was trained and told to behave either in a responsive or unresponsive manner. After a one-on-one, five-minute conversation, the participants filled in a postmeeting questionnaire designed to reflect their affective and motivational evaluations of their experiences.
Questions like, “Were your feelings about your speed-dating partner positive or negative?”, determined their affective evaluation, while questions like, “Do you want to meet your speed-dating partner again?” and “How motivated are you to make a good impression if there is a second meeting?” determined their motivational evaluation.
Again, regardless of commitment level, partners under the “easy-to-get” condition received more positive evaluations than those under the “hard-to-get” condition in terms of affective evaluation.
However, playing hard to get worked better in evoking positive motivation when a participant had a commitment towards his partner. It was the opposite when a participant had no commitment.
Both experiments consistently proved that playing hard to get could induce stronger motivational responses from those who are psychologically committed to their partner. When there is no psychological commitment, however, playing hard to get yields weaker motivational responses.
Also, playing easy to get always induces more positive affective evaluations, regardless of the degree of prior psychological commitment.