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.

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