The body language of flirting

So how do you know if someone is flirting and what goes on in the brain when we speak with someone we fancy? How do things differ online? 


A couple standing opposite each other

So let’s imagine there’s this girl or guy that you’ve seen a few times and have finally decided to talk to. The stakes are high as you really like this person. This is can be a stressful situation, no matter how confident you are. Not only might you want to let them know your intentions but you will also want to know if she/he is interested in you too. 

Luckily, your body language (the way you position and move your body) often gives away a lot when it comes to flirting – more than what words say alone. So some things happen naturally. But what actually are the signs of flirting? What happens in your brain when we flirt? And what changes if you can’t communicate with your body, for example when you flirt on social media?

What are the signs of flirting?

Flirting starts even before you start speaking to another person. Notice how you can’t help looking at that certain someone- sometimes without you even being aware of it. Here are some other, common signs of flirting:

  • smiling,
  • opening your body (palms up, arms and legs uncrossed, feet facing the other person) to signal that you’re interested,
  • moving towards the other person or entering her/his personal space by leaning forward for example.

These signs are very useful! They reassure the other person and show her/him that you would like to chat. Of course, not everybody will show all of those signs. Shy people tend to be less open as they are often more afraid of rejection and protect themselves more by avoiding showing their interest. 

What is going on in our brain when we flirt? 

For many people, flirting can be a nerve-wracking experience. When you meet someone new, or someone you don’t know very well, the brain can automatically respond by activating the fear circuit (a set of connected brain areas that push you to avoid and fear potential threats such as strangers). But in flirting, the brain often produces oxytocin, a chemical, which reduces the activity of these brain regions and decreases your stress level and anxiety. As a result, you might find your body naturally showing that you’re open to getting to know the other person more (open body posture, moving closer).

On top of that, your ‘flirting’ brain produces dopamine, another chemical, which activates your reward system- the parts of your brain that make you associate certain people or objects with pleasure. This makes flirting with someone, a fun and enjoyable experience. This is what also makes you develop a crush on the other person and feel motivated to meet her/him again if all goes well. In response, your body will likely show that you’re happy (smiles, laughter etc.). 

So all at the same time, your brain tries to block negative emotions and anxiety to help you approach a new person whilst also releasing hormones to make the interaction pleasurable. That’s why flirting can seem both scary and exciting!

Flirting online- less daunting?

Flirting on social media is becoming more and more common. For example on Facebook, the ritual is quite similar to face-to-face flirting. You show your interest by sending a friend request. Then you show your intentions by liking the things she/he likes before starting to send each other direct messages, often with emoticons. Beyond helpful practical reasons (e.g. you can potentially meet a larger number of people online as you’re not restricted to who is around when and where you go out), many people also find this way of flirting less scary. 

One of the reasons why you may find it less stressful is that directly seeing and facing a stranger triggers an avoidance and fear response in your brain. This is the one that oxytocin reduces. But due to the reduced amount of real contact involved at the start of dating someone online, your brain doesn’t produce as strong a fear response to the other person. In this sense, it’s easier for you to approach them and show that you’re interested. 


Reading the signs, when flirting online, can sometimes be trickier than flirting in real life though. Unconsciously, you interpret the body language of the person you flirt with. You can’t avoid it especially if they’re sat right in front of you. Online, it’s more difficult to know how the other person feels. That’s why people use emoticons (smiley, winky, sad faces) to make it less confusing and to better show how they feel. 

It’s also harder online to know if the other person is actually interested in you. Your body language is much more obvious than your words because it shows how you feel unconsciously, or without control over it. 

So what do you think? How do you show to someone that you’re interested? What do you think would work better online or face-to-face?