Plenty of pickup artists claim they can turn shy nerds into charming lady's men, but little academic research has been done how well their lessons actually work. Andreas Baranowksi, a PhD student at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, decided to find out. He recruited 17 men and 23 women for a five-to-six hour training session devoted to flirting skills. Much like many pickup artists, the trainers taught their students how to apply evolutionary psychology principles — like, for instance, the idea that women are biologically predisposed to be attracted to men with high social status — to the dating world. They also gave tips on combating anxiety, and on reading body language (also a staple of pickup artistry). Their advice included:
• Use a indirect approach (instead of "I find you attractive," ask "What band is that?"). This gives women a chance to evaluate you before investing in you.
• When talking to a girl, make her work a bit. We value more the things that are scarce and that we have to work for.
• Use body language to convey high social status. Take up a lot of space with your gestures, talk to your group of friends (instead of hanging around in a corner and looking for girls), and touch others non-reciprocally.
• If you're just looking for sex, you can simply go up and ask — this works in 75% of cases. But if you want a relationship, make the man work a bit, as above.
• Use body language to invite men to talk to you. Men are generally bad at reading body language, though. So show clear signs of interest (like smiling) and do it repeatedly — you may have to show interest up to 12 times to get a man to approach.
• If you're interested in someone, touch that person slightly (don't be overly touchy). Studies show that we like people more when they touch us. Women like it because being comfortable touching women makes men seem higher-status. Men like it because it's a sign of sexual interest.
After delivering these lessons, the trainers sent participants out to practice, giving them assignments ranging from the simple — smile at someone of the opposite sex — to the daunting — "Be rejected once real hard."
Then it was time to test their skills. Before the training, Baranowski's team asked male participants to collect as many phone numbers as they could in an hour. Women were supposed to collect drink invitations (the reason for the difference: "the literature indicates that women would receive the phone number from most men they approach"). The result: both men and women nearly doubled their success rate after the training. Men went from 1.07 phone numbers per hour on average to 3.67, while women upped their drink-invite average from 1.65 to 3.1.
Baranowski thinks men may have improved more than women because the trainer was male, and thus might have been more effective at training men.
In addition to netting them some numbers, the training made both male and female participants feel better about their dating skills. However, they didn't necessarily feel better about their lives as a whole. Baranowski explains that of course, dating isn't everything. "After the training," Baranowski writes in his as-yet-unpublished masters thesis, The Science of Seduction, a student who is unhappy with his major, for example, "might feel more confident around women. Yet, his major concern of having made a bad career choice will remain and his overall satisfaction with his life might stay low."
In some ways, the training actually made participants feel worse about themselves as people. Men felt more attractive and intelligent afterwards, but also more selfish.
As their dating skills improved, Baranowski's participants apparently felt a certain amount of guilt — they perceived themselves as less moral, in some ways, than they had when they started. This guilt appears common in pickup artist circles, so much so that various bloggers have posted strategies for combating it. One suggests that pickup artists remind themselves that women are way worse than they are: "there is NO AMOUNT OF CHEATING, DUPLICITY OR CONNIVING YOU CAN DO AS A TRAINED PICKUP ARTIST WHICH CAN MATCH THE SHEER AMORALITY OF A WOMAN. "
But Baranowksi's research doesn't bear this out — women and men both appeared to have moral misgivings about pickup. Which suggests that maybe this particular brand of dating advice has a cost — you get more numbers, but you may leave the bar feeling like an asshole.