How to tell if someone likes you

September 6, 2018 by Lesley Young, University of Alberta
The signals we send when we like someone are similar across cultures and aren't limited to romantic attraction, according to a new U of A study. Credit: Thinkstock

Mysteries around what behaviours signal attraction and answers to one of life's more pressing questions—are they into me?—are slightly clearer thanks to a new study by a University of Alberta researcher.

"What's really breakthrough in our research is that we showed attraction has a functional purpose beyond sexual motivation," said Christine Kershaw, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology who was a co-lead investigator in the study conducted at the University of Dayton, where she completed her master's. "Namely, we exhibit certain behaviours when we like someone, anyone, and we want to develop with that person."

Kershaw explained that people tend to misunderstand attraction, assuming it is limited to romantic intentions. People also think men and women flirt differently.

"For example, people believe men are more direct and women are more coy when it comes to flirting," she said.

However, not only did the meta-analysis of 309 studies identify the top behaviours all of us enact when we like anyone and want to establish trust, but it also showed that men and women across all cultures use similar behaviours to similar degrees.

"In other words, you can tell if someone likes you—whether that's a new doctor, a colleague at work or a prospective partner, regardless of gender or cultural background—if they exhibit certain behaviours," said Kershaw.

Mimicking behaviours (copying someone's movements), initiating conversation and close physical proximity are the top signs someone likes you, according to the research, followed by making eye contact, nodding, smiling and laughing.

"Some of these findings may seem like common sense; however, it's important to emphasize that these behaviours are related to trust. So not only can these be used toward a prospective partner, but also when forming all kinds of relationships with people," explained Kershaw.

She added that they are foundational cues for initiating a relationship with someone based on mutual trust, not necessarily a surface-level interaction.

Behaviours not related to include head tilting, open body posture, leaning toward the person, fixing clothing and flipping hair.

"It's important not to rely solely on nonverbal behaviours. Communicating, both verbal and nonverbal, is important to developing trust in a relationship," added Kershaw.

The study, "A Meta-analytic Investigation of the Relation Between Interpersonal Attraction and Enacted Behavior," was published earlier this year in the American Psychology Association's Psychological Bulletin.

Explore further: Research pinpoints indicators of attraction

More information: R. Matthew Montoya et al. A meta-analytic investigation of the relation between interpersonal attraction and enacted behavior., Psychological Bulletin (2018). DOI: 10.1037/bul0000148

Related Stories

Research pinpoints indicators of attraction

May 9, 2018
How can you tell if someone likes you? New research led by University of Dayton associate professor of psychology R. Matthew Montoya helps answer that question by identifying a list of nonverbal behaviors to watch for—identified ...

Meet the virtual pooch that could prevent dog bites

August 24, 2018
A virtual dog could soon be used as an educational tool to help prevent dog bites, thanks to an innovative project led by the University's Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC).

Research defines more behaviors that reveal romantic attraction

February 12, 2015
If you want to know whether people are flirting with you, look at what they say and do. Each person has a different tactic for communicating attraction, or flirting style, and new research suggests that during a short get-to-know-you ...

Social and emotional skills linked to better student learning

January 23, 2018
Students with well-developed and adaptive social and emotional behaviours are most likely to excel in school, according to UNSW researchers in educational psychology.

Kisspeptin boosts male sexual appetite and reduces anxiety

November 5, 2017
Increased activity of the hormone, kisspeptin, enhances sexual attraction and decreases anxiety in male mice, according to new research presented today at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Harrogate. The ...

Dieting associated with risky behaviours in teenage girls

June 1, 2018
Teenage girls who diet are more likely to engage in other health-compromising behaviours, including smoking, binge drinking, and skipping breakfast, a University of Waterloo study recently found.

Recommended for you

Self-perception and reality seem to line-up when it comes to judging our own personality

December 14, 2018
When it comes to self-assessment, new U of T research suggests that maybe we do have a pretty good handle on our own personalities after all.

Levels of gene-expression-regulating enzyme altered in brains of people with schizophrenia

December 14, 2018
A study using a PET scan tracer developed at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has identified, for the first time, epigenetic differences between the brains of individuals ...

Researchers discover abundant source for neuronal cells

December 13, 2018
USC researchers seeking a way to study genetic activity associated with psychiatric disorders have discovered an abundant source of human cells—the nose.

Video game players frequently exposed to graphic content may see world differently

December 13, 2018
People who frequently play violent video games are more immune to disturbing images than non-players, a UNSW-led study into the phenomenon of emotion-induced blindness has shown.

New genetic clues to early-onset form of dementia

December 13, 2018
Unlike the more common Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia tends to afflict young people. It accounts for an estimated 20 percent of all cases of early-onset dementia. Patients with the illness typically begin to ...

How teens deal with stress may affect their blood pressure, immune system

December 13, 2018
Most teens get stressed out by their families from time to time, but whether they bottle those emotions up or put a positive spin on things may affect certain processes in the body, including blood pressure and how immune ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.