Does Playing Hard to Get Work?


A Stanford researcher proved what we had known all along—when people play hard to get, they make us want them more. While it seems like a slight waste of time to do this study, I guess it never hurts to confirm things with science instead of personal anecdotes. Maybe these researchers can next run a test to see if eating too much makes you fat.

A recent alum of Stanford Graduate School of Business, Jason Jia, and two of his buddies really wanted to know if playing hard to get worked so they performed a series of experiments in Hong Kong. They signed up college boys and made them think they were going to meet girls at a speed dating event. The twist, though, was that they hired an actress who had a major task—with one group she would be open and nice and with the other group she would play hard to get.

Before the event, the researchers showed the boys a picture of the hot actress and a bunch of photos of uglier girls. (Beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder? Maybe they should do a test on that.) Most of the boys picked the attractive actress, showing their initial interest, and this fact played a part in Jia’s later conclusion.

Next, the researchers coached the actress on how to play hard to get. Jia said that good hard to get was “uncertainty and a mild negative signal,” but being flat out rude and shutting down your potential mate would just end the game. (So take note, cold and mean is never the way to get laid with any gender.) When the actress met with the second group, she was never hostile, but she played it coy and never showed the men any signs whether or not she was interested.

After the event, the researchers surveyed the men, and surprise, surprise. The boys who had already wanted her, wanted her more. The boys who chose the uglier girls earlier didn’t give two shits about the actress, though. Jia concluded that hard to get only works if you’re already initially desired. Hard to get won’t rev a stalled engine. Another thing Jia concluded was that the boys who desired the actress at the end of the night, didn’t actually like her. They wanted to go on a date with her or make her like them, but they overall found her as pleasant as rubbing onions on your eyes. This finding aligned with two other studies about desire and liking. One was an animal study that saw lab rats got addicted to sugar even though they showed no signs of actually liking the taste. Another study found nicotine addicts didn’t actually love smoking cigarettes but couldn’t stop their desire for it.


So what can we take away from this? Games can be played only with people who already signed up, but if you want long-term love, just cut the bullshit and be nice.