Sydney Morning Herald
Sunday, February 18, 2001

Women have winning smiles

By Robert Uhlig, London
Sydney Morning Herald

A smile really is just a smile, according to scientists who have found that women cannot help leading men on when they meet, even if they have no interest in them.

Coy flicks of the hair, flirtatious smiles and other subconscious sexual signals might give a man the impression that a woman finds him attractive, but Austrian anthropologist Karl Grammer urged caution.

Women were far more canny than men when they first met strangers, and unwittingly used known courtship techniques to take control of the situation, Professor Grammer found.

He said women instinctively avoided sending clear rejection signals, even to men they found unattractive, until they had fully assessed them.

Professor Grammer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Urban Ethology in Vienna, studied 45 pairs of male and female strangers in their teens and early 20s.

Each couple was left alone in a room while a researcher told them he had to answer a telephone call.

For the next 10 minutes, they were videotaped through a two-way mirror.

Afterwards, the volunteers were asked to rate the physical attractiveness of the person they had just met and whether they would date them if invited. Professor Grammer's team then analysed the video footage frame by frame, looking for courtship signals.

For women, these included head-tossing, hair-flipping and fidgeting with clothes.

A note was also taken of how much the couple spoke to each other, and of rejection signals, such as folding their arms.

Professor Grammer and his team found that, to start with, the women tried to attract the men's attention, chatting happily and using sexual gestures.

But this did not necessarily mean the woman found the man attractive, he said. Even when she found him completely unappealing, no clear rejection signals would be given at first.

The only time negative responses were seen was when a man talked too much.

After a few minutes, however, the women's actions started to reflect their real feelings, New Scientist reported.

Professor Grammer said the initial period of subconscious flirting allowed a woman to check a man's credentials.

Significantly, the women seemed to control the encounters. What they did had a direct effect on how the men behaved. A nod of the head, for instance, kept a man talking.

Professor Grammer said: "You can predict male behaviour from female behaviour, but not the other way round."

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