Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
Brooklyn, New York, United States
June 01
Freelance writer, editor, and first citizen of Judy's World.

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DECEMBER 28, 2011 8:19AM

Can seduction be taught? A psychologist decides to find out

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 How to flirt with a girl

Image from one of thousands of websites promising to teach men "how to flirt with a girl"

There was a time not too long ago when books and websites dealing with how to pick up women were largely aimed at helping shy men break out of their shell. But ever since Neil Strauss’s book The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists stormed the bestseller lists in 2005, the art of bending women’s wills to a would-be alpha male’s libido has become both an end in itself and a multi-million dollar industry.

The ethics of this practice are one thing, its effectiveness another. Just how well do the theories and exercises taught in the self-help books and in the expensive weekend seminars work when it comes to getting laid? In his master’s essay, “The Science of Seduction,” which he submitted in the spring of 2011, German psychologist Andreas Baranowski was amazed to discover that “little research has been done to explore the effectiveness of seduction techniques in human courtship,” even though “humans have used techniques to improve their chances with the other sex ever since the dawn of humanity.” So Baranowski decided to put these methods to the test.

But how to proceed? Strangely enough, pickup seminar providers didn't exactly leap at the prospect of having their high-priced methods evaluated and published by a dynamic young psychologist. So Baranowski, who was studying in Klagenfurt/Austria at the time, went ahead and organized his own six-hour university seminars based on some of the more popular flirting strategies that are out there today. In doing so, he created his own theoretical model of seduction, which he calls the 5-A model. This approach regards "seduction as a psychological process that can be broken down into five steps: attention, approach, attraction, affection, and arousal." Twenty-three straight women and seventeen straight men volunteered as pickup guinea pigs.

The students were first instructed to attempt to flirt in bars and other classic meeting places without any formal preparation. Then, in class, they practiced typical strategies, from opening lines all the way to an intermediate "scoring." For example, men learned that they should speak to women within three seconds of first seeing them, and try to pull women into premeditated conversations that are skillfully structured so as to avoid potentially embarrassing pauses. The women practiced a variety of postures and conversation strategies. After completing the seminars, the students were then sent out to put their knowledge into practice – the women to collect free drinks, the men to harvest phone numbers.

The results were impressive. The women were able to increase their free drinks from 1.5 to 3 each, and the men tripled their phone number intake. The students also described themselves as more attractive and self-confident than before. They also admitted that the training had made them less altruistic and less honest. In fact, they were now bonified pickup artists!


Baranowski, who openly admits his disgust at the sexism drenching modern pickup culture, discovered that, all in all, these methods work, particularly among persons with little prior dating experience. In an interview in this week's Unispiegel, he notes that this is largely due to a placebo effect. It’s better to have some sort of method, even a nonsensical one, than no method at all. Baranowski explains that

you have a good experience and think the theory works. And next time you’ve got more self-confidence. But the truth is actually even simpler: If you talk to seventy women on the street every day, after a week you will have more telephone numbers than someone who never talks to everyone.

This is particularly true of men. Women, whom Baranowski found to be far more communicative as a rule and who tend to discuss dating issues with their friends, have little need for pickup seminars when it comes to finding partners.

The “three-second rule,” prefabricated conversations, subtle putdowns, playing hard to get, gentle touching, invading a woman’s personal space, the whole neuro-linguistic programming bag of tricks – Baranowski says most of the techniques he sifted through in preparing his experiment were platitudes, pseudo-scientific theories, and blatantly false claims about human psychology. Some of them really do work, but such common sense advice is hardly worth hundreds of dollars. If anyone is getting seduced here, he says, it’s the men themselves – they are being seduced into handing their hard-earned money over to cynical, misogynistic pickup coaches.



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And I'm delighted to see your writing here more regularly once again.
Ouch! Gotta remember that one...
It's a fascinating subject, and I could imagine that other self-help courses would reveal similar results if someone took the trouble to analyze them. The "placebo" aspect reminds me of the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy's three companions just need a little appreciation to become what they really were all along. That makes the Wizard no less of a fraud, of course.

I bought a get rich quick book once for about forty dollars or so and it said step one write a book about getting rich quick, losing weight or picking up girls.

Step two market it to stupid people.

I wanted my money back but the seller was out of town, still waiting for him to return.
I enjoy reading on pop culture and psychology, especially when the tpic is so well presented as you have done here. Thank you, Judy. Baranowski's findings don't surprise me that much.

I'd like to put into the laboratory this hypothesis:


Men in beakers, women in test tubes, Bunsen fired up and the emergency shower ready to dump the water on any mishap!
I actually watched the TV show "The Pick Up Artist." "Mystery" was pretty suave and I can see falling for his schtick just because of his confidence. It was a definite behind the scenes for the meat market.
In my traveling days I worked, dined and socialized with a couple of major league womanizers. I've no doubt there are tips that can be taught. Showing an active, sympathetic and plausibly sincere interest in someone is something both Don Juans had in common. Re the talking to 70 women, one of my colleagues used a baseball analogy. You try to talk to 10 women and even if seven give you the brush-off, 3 of 10 is a good batting average. I guess the message was don't let rejection discourage you. Interesting post Judy.
Seductively logical. Nice piece, so to speak. I'm surprised it's not an editor's pick...
The “three second rule” probably accounts for the vast majority of the improvement in what these folks are trying to attain. People like to talk…and are a bit shy about starting conversations. Anybody willing to initiate a conversation is a gem in the context in which these people were operating.

Sure…you get shot down occasionally, but most of the time if you smile and are friendly and have a reasonable willingness to listen and engage in real conversation, things will work out fine. Getting over shyness is huge…and the “three second rule” knocks the crap out of shyness after just a few uses.

I’ve started conversations in bars, restaurants, on buses, subways and who knows what other kinds of places. People long for other people to speak and listen. Good subject to raise, Judy.
kind of a cynical take on the whole thing. maybe many of the guys who pay for seduction advice are not womanizers.
I believe this is my first visit to your blog. I really like your writing style.
Baranowski doesn't claim that, he simply emphasizes how methods originally designed to enhance self-esteem have progressively been turned into a large-scale hook-up business with some pretty ugly features.
I find it interesting that he made a point of using straight people. Maybe he was afraid that queer folks greater success rate would have had a depressing effect on the others! ;)

(plus out of a group of 40 people I'd bet SOMEBODY was either in denial or the closet!)
He explains that in the report, stating that gay dating practices are considerably different and would call for a study all their own!