From where I sit - P.S. Ich liebe dich

February 23, 2012

The German media have found themselves irresistibly attracted to a student who wants to turn flirting into a subject for academic analysis by introducing his own seminar on "live flirting training" and exposing the spurious theorising of the existing flirting "industry".

Psychology student Andreas Baranowski, of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, has written his master's dissertation on the techniques used by "experts" in seduction. His particular focus is on flirting training and internet "pick-up communities", which are learning groups for those who wish to be more successful in attracting women or men.

So it is already in the sphere of didactics, and by researching it at the university level, Mr Baranowski wishes to turn the study of flirting into a sub-discipline of applied psychology. His enterprise has attracted coverage from Der Spiegel and from German radio. He stresses that many so-called "pick-up artists" work with invalid and dubious theories. For instance, many men believe that they should dominate women in their initial contacts. This fallacy, Mr Baranowski argues, is based on notions about cavemen dragging women into their lairs.

There are already many non-academic flirting seminars on offer, and Mr Baranowski attended one - purely as a scientist. For his €400 (£332), he was exposed to "pseudoscientific theories and false statements". Furthermore, the only real seduction was by the trainer, whose main objective was to get money out of the participants. Mr Baranowski explains that the "pick-up community" has mutated from self-help groups for shy men into an industry, with all the wrong motives and methodologies. So he offered his own seminar, which attracted considerable attention. However, the enthusiasm of potential participants dwindled when they were informed that the course requirements included an hour of serious flirting themselves, both before and after the course. Even so, 23 women and 17 men embarked on this voyage of applied psychological exploration. Mr Baranowski explained all manner of theories and conducted classroom exercises. The learning objectives included fear reduction and confidence-building strategies.

The objective of the pre- and post-instruction flirting hour was for men to acquire as many phone numbers as possible, while for women it was drinks invitations. Having completed the course, the women obtained one and a half times as many invitations, and the men acquired an impressive three times as many phone numbers.

Mr Baranowski says that although the flirting industry's theories are wrong, they can have beneficial effects. In psychological terms, the point is that people schooled in these theories enter flirting situations prepared and more confident of success, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Furthermore, they actually do try their luck, rather than shying away from the situation completely. And what about the investigator's own flirting? Mr Baranowski says that when he flirts now, he knows "the exact flirting phase currently occurring".

He also concedes that this knowledge can be dangerous. The other day, "this insight slipped out and the girl fled". Clearly, flirting strategies constitute a promising academic field, both theoretical and applied.

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