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.