Study asks who s playing hard-to-get and who s attracted by the ploy

Playing "hard-to-get" is an age-old gambit for dating and mating, familiar to moviegoers, readers of literature and any admirer who s ever been "left on read."


Research just published in the peer-reviewed journal Personality and Individual Differences looks at the psychological underpinnings of making yourself seem more desirable by withholding obvious signs of romantic interest.

"If you think about things like breadcrumbing or benching -- you re letting people think you re interested in them, then pulling away or keeping things as they are without moving the relationship forward," said Omri Gillath, professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, who co-wrote the paper. "You re not escalating or de-escalating the effort. For instance, you re sitting there and playing with your phone -- phubbing -- not paying full attention to the other person and making them struggle to get your attention. It s sending a double message. On the one hand, you re saying you re interested. But on the other hand you re saying, You ll have to work hard to actually get my full attention. "

Gillath and Jeffery Bowen of Johns Hopkins University looked to discover the associations among romantic aloofness, gender and "attachment style," the psychological term for people s way of thinking, feeling and behaving in close relationships.

Attachment style, usually formed in childhood, falls into the primary categories of secure or insecure (people with an insecure attachment style are usually classified as anxious or avoidant). Overall, the researchers found that women and people with insecure attachment styles tended to play hard-to-get more.

"Hard-to-get behaviors seem to serve as strategies to self-protect and manage potential partners behaviors," Gillath said. "Women, as we expected, are playing hard-to-get more, and men are pursuing them. Avoidant people tend to be playing hard-to-get, and anxious people are pursuing them. The nice thing is it s compatible. If you re secure about yourself and about others loving you, you re less likely to get involved in such game-playing -- and you re not playing hard-to-get or pursuing people that are playing hard-to-get. But if you re insecure you re more likely to use these strategies, playing and pursuing, and it s serving a role for both sides."

Across four studies involving over 900 participants, the authors examined links between attachment style and hard-to-get strategies. Among their findings:


According to the authors, their study sheds light on how people with avoidant and anxious attachment styles manage their psychological vulnerabilities. Put another way, our behavior in trying to find mates and partners is rooted in early life experiences.

For people with insecure attachment styles, Gillath said playing hard-to-get, or chasing an aloof potential mate, are efficient approaches for securing intimacy, romantic relationships and sex.

"We re not saying it s good or it s bad, but for some people these strategies are working," he said. "It helps people create relationships and get partners they want. But who s doing it and what are the outcomes? These people are usually insecure people -- and their relationships are often ones that won t last long or will be dissatisfying."

For other people, playing hard-to-get is less a romantic strategy and more of a survival instinct.

"Sometimes, it s not so much about the relationship but about helping people to stay in control," Gillath said. "Some people are behaving in such a way because they re terrified. They can t trust anyone -- and they re doing whatever they can to protect themselves from getting hurt again. So, for them, it s not playing. This is not a game for them but a way to protect themselves and to verify people out there are serious and are going to be reliable mates."

The KU researcher said "playing hard-to-get" is one aspect of the psychological power dynamics that define many human relationships, whether they re romantic or not.

"Any relationship where we have two sides involved is going to have some push and pull," Gillath said. "There are relationships where one side wants it more and the other side wants it less. The side that is less invested has more power. If you really need my friendship and I have other friends, I m going to have more power and control in the friendship and could potentially play hard-to-get. The person who s more desperate is likely to have less control and less power and likely to pursue more."

Materials provided by University of Kansas . Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

University of Kansas. "Study asks who s playing hard-to-get and who s attracted by the ploy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 June 2020. .

University of Kansas. "Study asks who s playing hard-to-get and who s attracted by the ploy." ScienceDaily. (accessed June 30, 2020).



Dec. 17, 2018 — Impulse online shopping, downloading music and compulsive email use are all signs of a certain personality trait that make you a target for malware attacks. New research examines the behaviors -- ...

June 8, 2018 — Those who feel greater certainty that a prospective romantic partner reciprocates their interest will put more effort into seeing that person again, while rating the possible date as more sexually ...

May 14, 2018 — Research shows that long- and short-term relationships look almost identical in the beginning. At some point, romantic interest tends to plateau and decline in short-term ...

Aug. 5, 2015 — For generations, passionate kisses immortalized in movies, songs and the arts have served as a thermometer of romantic affection. But current research has found that not only is romantic kissing not ...
News Topics :
Similar Articles :
In the midst of a global pandemic, a lot of people rightly will be reluctant to offer food from their plate to another person, or accept such an offer due...
Findings appearing in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships show people who believe they resulted from unwanted or unplanned pregnancies tend to have more insecure relationship styles as adults....
For a short term hookup, sexting might seem like a direct way to get what you want or at least try to. But according to my research, sexting is actually...
New research suggests that people with attachment issues are more likely than others to be engaged in the stories for instance, to say that they feel connected to the...
Go ahead Give your partner a hug or cuddle while you catch some Netflix. According to recently published research from Binghamton University, State University of New York, it just might...