Playing hard to get?

Having your cake and eating it at the same time?

Does ‘playing hard to get’ work? Well, does it? What do you think? Do you think you would have more dates or less dates if you played hard to get, what is the best strategy – apart from what your friends tell you?

Hmmm, rather than ask your unscientific friends, why not ask a real scientist? There’s a little known paper done in the seventies that may provide you with the answer. Hatfield, E., Walster, G. W., Piliavin, J., & Schmidt, L.  (1973). Playing hard-to-get:  Understanding an elusive phenomenon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 26, 113-121.

Elaine Walster et al wondered about the exact same question so they set up a couple of experiments. To save you reading a nine page PDF and figuring it out I’m going to give you the shorten version.

Elaine asked a group of woman who had signed up with a dating agency to help out. Whenever a guy phoned them for a date they were asked to respond in one of two ways; they either agreed immediately (easy) or they paused for three seconds (hard) before agreeing. After the call the guys were rang back, told they had just taken part in an experiment and asked to rate their dates.  Elaine was surprised to discover that ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ did not affect the men’s rating of their dates in any way so playing hard to get ‘exclusive’ didn’t seem to work.

So Elaine and her team developed that experiment further and this time got the woman to say that she had countless offers and reluctantly agreed to just a coffee date. And she got the same results, ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ were both rated equally.

And so, like all desperate researchers, they turned to prostitution. Perhaps I should explain. They persuaded a group of prostitutes to engage with their clients in one of two ways; either get down and dirty right away (easy) or stall them and tell them they were going to college and would only be ‘engaging’ with the clients they liked the best (hard). The team secretly monitored the clients return rate and once again found no difference between the two groups.

Mystified as to were this ‘hard to get’ myth came from, Elaine interviewed lots of young men about their preferences. It seems that ‘easy’ woman were fun and relaxing to be with but ‘hard’ woman gave a great boost to the man’s ego. Therefore Elaine repeated the experiments but crucially she got the ‘hard to get’ girls to insinuate that yes, they were choosy BUT they had chosen you.  They found overwhelming evidence to support this notion of ‘I’m choosy – but I choose you’ and in those experiments the ‘hard to get’ girls rated much higher than the easy girls.

So, there you have it, playing hard to get (but being easy at the same time) can pay dividends. You read it here first. Unless your name is Elaine Walster! 🙂

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