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Why do men use silly pickup lines?

Jan. 14, 2011
Special to World Science  

“Pick­up” lines based on humor tend to fall flat—but they do get the speak­ers rat­ed as rel­a­tively fun­ny and so­cia­ble, and aren’t dis­fa­vored by wom­en seek­ing brief li­ais­ons, a new study sug­gests.

Cor­win Senko and Vi­viana Fyffe of the State Uni­vers­ity of New York–New Paltz con­ducted the re­search to as­sess why wom­en re­spond dif­fer­ently to dif­fer­ent types of “pick­up” lines and to help an­swer that ques­tion so com­mon from young wom­en: why do men use dumb pickup lines? 

“Flip­pant pick-up lines, so of­ten used by men to im­press wom­en, of­ten back­fire,” the re­search­ers not­ed, de­tail­ing their find­ings in the Nov­em­ber-Dec­em­ber is­sue of the Jour­nal of So­cial Psy­chol­o­gy. The study focused on re­marks men make to try to in­i­ti­ate con­tact with wom­en, ra­ther than those used by wo­men on men, as wom­en are “more of­ten the re­cip­i­ents of pick-up lines,” and “are of­ten more dis­crim­i­nat­ing” in mate choice, the re­search­ers wrote.

In a sur­vey, they asked 70 fe­male uni­vers­ity stu­dents how fa­vorably they would re­spond to var­i­ous ap­proach lines from men un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances. Pre­vi­ous re­search had shown this type of sur­vey to yield re­sults that line up well with wom­en’s real-life re­ac­tions to pickup at­tempts in bars, Senko and Fyffe said. This past re­search had al­ready in­di­cat­ed that “flip­pant” pickup lines work poor­ly. But it had­n’t fully ex­plained why, and had al­so suf­fered some method­olog­i­cal flaws fixed in the new re­search, Senko and Fyffe claimed.

The pair stud­ied the ef­fects of “flip­pant” lines such as “can I get a pic­ture of you so I can show San­ta what I want for Christ­mas?” Wom­en rat­ed men who used such open­ing gam­bits, as op­posed to oth­er types, as rel­a­tively high on hu­mor­ous­ness and so­cia­bil­ity, but low on trust­wor­thi­ness and in­tel­li­gence.

“Wom­en rate the lat­ter qual­i­ties more es­sen­tial than the form­er ones in a long-term mate,” the re­search­ers wrote. Hu­mor might not or­di­narily sig­nal low in­tel­li­gence, they added, but the type of canned hu­mor usu­ally found in pickup lines could.

Two types of non-“flippant” pickup lines were al­so used in the sur­vey for com­par­i­son. One type was the “di­rect” line, such as “I saw you across the room and knew I had to meet you. What’s your name?” The oth­er was the “in­nocu­ous” sort that con­ceals ro­man­tic in­tent, thus mak­ing re­jec­tion more bear­a­ble. An ex­ample: “You look really fa­mil­iar. Have we tak­en a class to­geth­er?”

The sur­vey re­sults saw the “flip­pant” lines scorned by wom­en who were asked to im­ag­ine them­selves seek­ing a long-term mate. But for wom­en asked to think of them­selves seek­ing a short-term mate, the type of pickup line did­n’t mat­ter, the re­search­ers found: in­stead, the man’s per­ceived at­trac­tive­ness was the key fac­tor in the wom­an’s re­cep­ti­vity.

“Di­rect” pickup lines gave the best re­sults on av­er­age, but the out­come dif­fer­ences be­tween them and the “in­nocu­ous” lines weren’t sta­tis­tic­ally sig­nif­i­cant, Senko and Fyffe re­ported.

The find­ings over­all sup­port past re­search show­ing that wom­en seek­ing long-term rela­t­ion­ships look for qual­i­ties that make “good dads,” while those seek­ing short-term flings show great­er pref­er­ence for genes sig­naling good health, they not­ed. “Given the mod­est link be­tween phys­i­cal at­trac­tive­ness and health,” they added, “at­trac­tive­ness may be one such sig­nal.”


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“Pickup” lines based on jokes tend to fail—but they do get the speakers rated as relatively funny and sociable, and they aren’t disfavored by women seeking short-term liaisons, a new study suggests. Corwin Senko and Viviana Fyffe of the State University of New York–New Paltz conducted the research to assess why women respond differently to different types of “pickup” lines and to help answer that question so common from young women: why do men use dumb pickup lines? “Flippant pick-up lines, so often used by men to impress women, often backfire,” the researchers noted, detailing their findings in the November-December issue of the Journal of Social Psychology. The authors examined the different types of remarks men make to try to initiate contact with women, rather than the reverse. This focus was chosen because women are “more often the recipients of pick-up lines,” and “are often more discriminating when selecting a partner,” the researchers wrote. In a survey, they asked 70 female university students how favorably they would respond to various approach lines from men under several different conditions. Previous research had shown this type of survey to yield results that line up well with women’s real-life reactions to pickup attempts in bars, Senko and Fyffe said. This past research had already indicated that “flippant” pickup lines work poorly. But it hadn’t fully explained why, and had also suffered some methodological flaws fixed in the new research, Senko and Fyffe claimed. Senko and Fyffe studied the effects of “flippant” lines such as “can I get a picture of you so I can show Santa what I want for Christmas?” Women rated men who used such opening gambits, as opposed to other types, as relatively high on humorousness and sociability, but low on trustworthiness and intelligence. “Women rate the latter qualities more essential than the former ones in a long-term mate,” the researchers wrote. Humor might not ordinarily signal low intelligence, they added, but the type of canned humor usually found in pickup lines could. Two types of non-”flippant” pickup lines were also used in the survey for comparison. One type was the “direct” line, such as “I saw you across the room and knew I had to meet you. What’s your name?” The other was the “innocuous” sort designed to conceal romantic intent, thus making rejection more bearable. These include: “You look really familiar. Have we taken a class together?” The survey results saw the “flippant” lines scorned by women who were asked to imagine themselves seeking a long-term mate. But for women asked to think of themselves seeking a short-term mate, the type of pickup line didn’t matter, the researchers found: instead, the man’s “attractiveness” was the overriding factor in the woman’s receptivity. “Direct” pickup lines gave the best results on average, but the outcome differences between them and the “innocuous” lines weren’t statistically significant, Senko and Fyffe reported. The findings overall support past research showing that women seeking long-term relationships look for qualities that make “good dads,” while those seeking short-term flings show greater preference for genes signaling good health, they noted. “Given the modest link between physical attractiveness and health,” they added, “attractiveness may be one such signal.”