The Psychology of Playing Hard-to-Get Game : Does It Work? When meeting potential partners, some of us are more distant or act disinterested.
Charles Darwin noticed this idea of elusive play in relation to mating in 1871, which some interpreted as shyness. This term as defined by Oxford Dictionary of Educationrefers to “being shy or pretending to be shy and innocent, especially about love or sex, and sometimes to get people more interested in you.”
Sound familiar? Research has actually documented this behavior or idea in humans many centuries before Darwin.
Whether or not it has ancient evolutionary roots, modern social scientists have analyzed the idea of hard-to-reach play and how this phenomenon affects human relationships. This includes the question of whether it is really useful or not.
Does the game Hard to Get work?
Some studies, such as 2020 survey in Journal of Social and Personal Relations, reveal that showing less interest and being more selective can make a potential suitor want you more and subsequently put more effort into winning you over.
The study’s authors explain one possible reason why this tactic may be successful: “Uncertainty about the romantic interest it evokes may lead to increased psychological concern with that person.”
In other words, you just think more of the person. It’s comparable to wondering if your favorite fast food restaurant is still open late at night, then suddenly craving their spicy chicken sandwich even more.
The psychology of playing Hard to Get
However, the researchers of another study looking at this strategy, explain how there are different pathways in the brain’s reward circuitry for the ‘liking and wanting response’. So there’s a difference between wanting something and finding the motivation to get it versus liking it.
Actor Aziz Ansari, in his book modern romance, explains an idea from social psychology known as the scarcity principle. It can help us explain why we want more of something when we can’t have it.
“We generally see something as more desirable when it is less available,” Ansari writes. “When you text someone less often, you’re actually making yourself scarcer and more attractive.”
Although Ansari is not a scientist, similar ideas have been demonstrated in studies of dynamic psychology.
Wanting what you can’t have
Lack of predictability – or responsiveness and approachability – has been shown to increase the amount of time and money a stalker is willing to spend on someone.
Participants in a 2013 study in European Journal of Personality were willing to spend more for someone with “low availability,” about $50, compared to about $39 for someone who was highly available. Similarly, participants in the experiment were also willing to spend more time with the “low-availability friends.”
Alexandra Solomonlicensed clinical psychologist and author and host of Rethinking Love podcast, says that some people often enjoy the challenge of finding someone who isn’t overtly available. However, Solomon emphasizes that this is not the case necessarily healthy.
Does Hard to Get work with online dating?
So if you’re not as available or don’t make your interest known right away, there seem to be advantages. Yet some studies also suggest that playing a hard-to-reach game isn’t the best way to go when it comes to gaining someone’s interest and subsequent effort.
For example, the researchers of 2018 survey published in Computers in human behavior found that participants who showed more interest through online interactions and messages received more effort in return. (Basically, who wants to be rejected and waste their energy, right?)
The tendency for people to like those who like them, the researchers wrote, has long been theorized and demonstrated to promote relationship initiation.
Attachment styles and dating
Researcher Omri Gilat is helping to provide a potential explanation for what kind of hard-to-reach person pursues these so-called players, and why.
in research published in Journal of Social and Personal RelationsGilat and co-author Jeffrey Bowen explain how different attachment styles exist, such as anxious and avoidant.
As you might guess, people high in attachment avoidance tend to avoid intimacy. Not only do those with an avoidant attachment style play hard-to-get more than anxiously attached individuals, but for these people, “playing hard-to-get is less of a romantic strategy and more of a survival instinct,” Gilat writes in Psychology Today.
Interestingly, people with attachment anxiety, or people who tend to need more reassurance, also tend to pursue people who are hard to find. There are various speculative reasons why this might be the case, each wrapped around unique factors and circumstantial patterns.
Finding the One
The reality is that personal attachment styles and life experiences can play a role in how you specifically behave in the dating world and why.
It is also important to note that most studies have limitations and recreating real-life dating scenarios can be challenging.
While some people enjoy the chase or challenge that can come with dating, finding someone who is open to a willingness to partner, Solomon says, can be important. Of course, if you want that too.
So far, research suggests that you shouldn’t be too aloof, but a moderate amount of uncertainty and mystery might not be a bad thing. And if you’re the one doing the chasing, make sure you’re not out of breath running in circles to catch someone who might actually be uninterested.
After all, preserving your own mental health and well-being in the process is key to making healthy decisions in your romantic partnerships.
Read more: Do relationships affect our physical health?