“Dude, she was totally flirting with you,” says your mate (the one who as well as always ‘having your back’ is reliably on hand to tell you when you messed up).
“Nah, she was just being polite,” you reply.
“Nah mate, pretty sure she was flirting.”
What can we say, except... damn! Your mate was probably right.
A study at the University of Kansas published in the Journal of Sex Research has found flirting has a particular facial cue effectively used by women to indicate interest in a man.
What’s the cue, we hear you ask/plead? The most effective cues, the researchers found, are heads turned to one side and tilted down slightly, a slight smile, and eyes turned forward toward the implied target... hopefully that’s you.
The thing is you already know this. Or at least your gut does. It’s your brain, that warehouse storing fear, anxiety, poor self-esteem and a special crate marked “general wuss moves”, that’s ruling your behaviour and preventing you from acting on your instincts.
"Across our six studies, we found most men were able to recognise a certain female facial expression as representing flirting," says study author Omri Gillath. "It has a unique morphology, and it's different from expressions that have similar features - for example, smiling - but aren't identified by men as flirting expression."
Of course, the reverse is true, too. You probably know, deep down, when that smile isn’t freighted with carnal implications. To progress from this point will only invite awkwardness at best, use of a ubiquitous hashtag, at worst.
In the studies, women were asked either to spontaneously pose a flirting expression (similar to what they'd use at a bar to get attention from a potential mate) or to follow instructions based on “existing anthropological literature for what researchers define as flirting” – we know, sexy, right?
The team found some women are more effective than others in effectively conveying a flirtatious facial cue, while some men are better at recognising this cue, (your mate, perhaps?)
“The research findings highlight the role of flirtatious expression in communication and mating initiation," Gillath says.
The takeaway? Read the signs and trust your gut. Chances are you probably won’t crash and burn . . . and you won’t have to listen to any recriminations from your so-called mate, either - he’ll be too busy wondering what happened to his spineless, clueless friend.