Want to Pique a Date's Interest? Play Hard to Get

Guys, science has a tip for you this Valentine's Day: Don't let on how much you like your potential date.

A study using fictitious profiles from the social networking site Facebook.com found that the women who were most interested in a group of men knew the least about whether or not the men liked them.

“When people first meet, it may be that popular dating advice is correct: Keeping people in the dark about how much we like them will increase how much they think about us and will pique their interest,” wrote Erin Whitchurch and Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia, and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, the authors of the study published in the February issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Under the pretense of studying the potential of Facebook's usefulness as an online dating site, researchers told 47 female undergraduates that male students had viewed their profiles, along with the profiles of 15 to 20 other women. The women were then shown four men's profiles (which were, unbeknownst to the women, actually fake). One group of women was told these men had liked them the most, a second group was told these men had rated them average, and the final group was left guessing – they were told the men could either have liked them most or were the ones who rated them average.

It turned out that members of this final group — the ones with the least information — were the most attracted to their potential dates. These women also reported thinking about the men more than the others. [Flirting Style Predicts Your Relationship Success]

The women who were told they had been ranked average were the least attracted to their potential dates, and the women who were told the men liked them most fell in the middle. This result didn't come as a surprise — psychological research has found that people generally like others as much as they believe the others like them. This is called the reciprocity principle.

In light of these results, the researchers suggest a qualification to the reciprocity principle: A person might like someone more when they are uncertain about how much that person likes them, as long as they have some initial attraction toward the person.

You can follow LiveSciencewriter Wynne Parry on Twitter @Wynne_Parry.

Wynne was a reporter at The Stamford Advocate. She has interned at Discover magazine and has freelanced for The New York Times and Scientific American's web site. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Utah.