The Science of Flirting: Being a H.O.T. A.P.E. by Jean Smith at TEDxLSHTM (Transcript)

Watch and read the full transcript of flirt interpreter Jean Smith’s TEDx Talk: The Science of Flirting: Being a H.O.T. A.P.E. at TEDxLSHTM conference. This event occurred on September 15, 2015.

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Jean Smith – Flirt Interpreter

Let me ask you something. Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve asked yourself the following question: is this person — is this person flirting with me?

Picture the scene. You’re at a friend’s party. You sashay into the kitchen, because well, we all know that’s where the fun is. And you see an attractive stranger, getting a drink refill from a box of wine. Your friend’s a student. And so you get a drink refill and you say something hilarious to the attractive stranger. Attractive stranger laughs. Good for you. And then for the next few minutes there’s some eye contact, more talking. But then after a few minutes you start thinking is this person flirting with me? Sound familiar, anyone?

See the person sitting next to you, it’s happened to them. The person in front of you, it’s happened to them. You see this is a universal conundrum. But no more! Because in the next 10 minutes I’m going to tell you the signs of flirting and never again will you wonder: is this person flirting with me?

I’m Jean Smith. I’m a social anthropologist who studies flirting, a flirtologist, if you will. Now as a flirtologist, I do research, I write books, I give talks. And I work with clients, both private and corporate, all with the goal of helping people to become better flirts.

So I can see some of you sitting there, you’re thinking: really? Is this necessary? I mean teaching people how to flirt? Yes. Yes, it is. I’ve been doing this for over a decade. And if the question: is this person flirting with me was popular then. It’s now everyone wants to take it to prom popular, because over the last decade the way that we flirt has changed dramatically. People are relying more and more on digital ways of communicating. But let’s face it, an emoji with its tongue sticking out, it’s only going to get you so far. At some point you’re going to have to meet in person. Unless of course you’re Japanese male, and in that case you could go on to marry your video game girlfriend Rinko.

So it’s part of my quest to help people become better flirts. I did research. I went to the cities of London, New York, Paris and Stockholm and I researched the flirting behavior of its inhabitants. And I found there were six things that they all had in common. Six ways that they could signal they were flirting and understood when someone was flirting with them. And I teach this as H.O.T. A.P.E. It’s the six signs — it’s an acronym for the six signs of flirting.

So what if I were to say to you: you must be a parking ticket, because you’ve got fine written all over you. Would you laugh? Well, ‘H’ is for humor. Raise your hand if you thought my joke was funny. Go ahead, don’t be shy. OK, everyone with their hands up, I would totally date you. Well, if my husband weren’t such a control freak. But anyway if you didn’t raise your hands, it’s not a good match. It’s just not going to work between us. But it’s me, not you. But this is a good thing because HOTAPE-ing people it takes time.

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Does anyone here like reading a good novel, watching an interesting TED talk? Does anyone here like test cricket? These things also take time, especially test cricket, five days. And this is where people often get it wrong because they want to attract everybody. But no, you just want to attract those people who match with you. And that’s why humor, specifically a shared sense of humor is really important for helping you to differentiate between your potential HOT-APEs and squirrel monkeys. I mean, yeah, they’re cute. I’m sure they have a great personality. But at the end of the day it’s a squirrel monkey. It’s no HOT-APE.

So ‘O’ is for open body language. Three things to remember. Number one, don’t do this. I know some of you are guilty of this. I’ve heard it all before, Oh, but I’m cold or this is comfortable. OK, whiny voice aside in which instance do you want to HOT-APE me more like this or like this, right? Not HOTAPE. HOT-APE.

Number two: make sure your shoulders are facing the person. So not HOT-APE, not HOT-APE, still not HOT-APE. HOT-APE. Not HOT-APE. HOT-APE.

Now the third, this is the most important and I’m only telling you guys. This is a really good one. To see if someone’s interested, look at the direction in which their feet are pointing. So if their feet are pointing at you, good sign. If they’re kind of out to the side, it means they’re planning their escape route. The further away our limbs are from our brain, the harder it is for us to control them. So Shakira, I know you say: the hips don’t lie but the flirtologist is here to say the feet don’t lie.

‘T’ is for touch. Like humor, touch also has a positive physiological response on our body. Now as a general rule, shoulder — it’s the safe place to touch. But as you go down the arm, towards the hands, the touch gets more intimate. That’s why I recommend everyone should kind of tap the hand and say something like: ‘oh, you’re so funny’, people seem to love that stuff. OK.

Oh, another place that would be nice to touch. We just — just here at the top of the back between the shoulder blades perhaps if you’re passing by, you can give a light touch. Now of all of the flirting signs, people seem to be the most wary about using touch. As one of my clients said, “Well, the other signs you can get away with. But when it comes to touch, you’re culpable”. But touch can get you out of the friend zone and it can also show someone that you’re interested. And as long as you remember, I like test cricket, it lasts five days, I don’t have time to HOT-APE with everyone, then if the person doesn’t respond positively, you can try someone else.

‘A’ is for attention. This one might seem obvious. The more attention someone is paying you, the more they like you. But the problem is once you’re in the interaction, it’s really hard to be objective. Which is why in anthropology, we have a methodology, it’s called participant observation. And I think this could be a really useful tool for you to use in flirting. It means that you’re participating, you’re in the interaction but you’re not so in it that you can’t observe. So if you were to, for example, touch and say something and see the other person blushed, it means that you’re not so self-conscious that you can’t observe the effect that you’re having on the other person. And that my friends is when the flirting gets really fun.

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‘P’ is for proximity. Now proximity was used in two ways. The first, if you see someone across the room and then all of a sudden they’re next to your side, this is not a coincidence. It means they like what they see and they must explore further.

The other way proximity was used is when you’re actually in the interaction, they’re standing closer than usual. So if you’re attracted, great. If you’re not, they’re in your space.

So the last of the flirting signs is the most important. Can anyone guess what it is? Thank you. It’s eye contact. This was the number one way that people could understand someone who’s flirting with them and the difference between friendly and flirting. So in flirting, eye contact begets happen more often. It was held for a longer amount of time and it was more intense.

So using these signs: humor, open body language, touch, attention, proximity, eye contact, you can recognize when someone is flirting with you. And as a general rule, the more signs the better.

Now my favorite story of HOT-APE being used in the field was relayed to me by one of my clients. She had shared HOT-APE with all of her friends. And one night they went out HOTAPE-ing guys. And one of her friends was making eye contact with a guy at the bar. And she went over and spoke with him. And she came back a few minutes later, bit dejected, my client said – well, what happened? What happened? And she’s like, ‘Oh nothing’.

‘Well, did you HOT-APE him?’

She’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’

And so then they started going through the sides: ‘Did you use humor?’

She’s like ‘Yeah, yeah’.

‘What about open body language? You didn’t do this like you usually do, did you?’

‘No, no’.

‘What about touch? Did you touch him?

‘But backhand, uh, God, I didn’t use touch’. And then they started laughing, like well, no wonder, and what normally could have been a situation of dejection or you know feeling bad, it just turned into a fun game. And this is the power of HOTAPE because it turns flirting into what it should be. It’s something fun, easy, it’s not a big deal. And when we think about flirting like this, it totally changes our paradigm of rejection. And in situations where we’re often feeling self-conscious or a bit nervous, we have scientific tools to help us remember what to do.

And finally, it makes it not about us, it’s a checklist. It’s tasks, it’s things to do rather than how we often see flirting which is a stranger’s evaluation of our worth.

So now you know the signs of flirting and I encourage you to not just recognize but be proactive, because these signs also use for you to express interest. And this is my challenge to you: forget about the game, forget about the rules, be genuine. Take action and go HOTAPE someone.

Thank you.