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Playing Hard–To–Get: Manipulating One'S Perceived Availability as A Mate


Abstract and Figures

‘Playing hard-to-get’ is a mating tactic in which people give the impression that they are ostensibly uninterested to get others to desire them more. This topic has received little attention because of theoretical and methodological limitations of prior work. We present four studies drawn from four different American universities that examined playing hard-to-get as part of a supply-side economics model of dating. In Studies 1a (N = 100) and 1b (N = 491), we identified the tactics that characterize playing hard-to-get and how often men and women enact them. In Study 2 (N = 290), we assessed reasons why men and women play hard-to-get along with the personality traits associated with these reasons. In Studies 3 (N = 270) and 4 (N = 425), we manipulated the rate per week prospective mates went out with people they had just met and assessed participants' willingness to engage in casual sex and serious romantic relationships with prospective mates (Study 3) and the money and time they were willing to invest in prospective mates (Study 4). We frame our results using a sexual economics model to understand the role of perceived availability in mating dynamics. Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology
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Playing Hard-to-Get: Manipulating Ones Perceived Availability as a Mate
School of Social Sciences and Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia
School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University, Singapore
Abstract: Playing hard-to-getis a mating tactic in which people give the impression that they are ostensibly
uninterested to get others to desire them more. This topic has received little attention because of theoretical and
methodological limitations of prior work. We present four studies drawn from four different American universities
that examined playing hard-to-get as part of a supply-side economics model of dating. In Studies 1a (N = 100) and
1b (N = 491), we identied the tactics that characterize playing hard-to-get and how often men and women enact
them. In Study 2 (N = 290), we assessed reasons why men and women play hard-to-get along with the personality
traits associated with these reasons. In Studies 3 (N = 270) and 4 (N = 425), we manipulated the rate per week
prospective mates went out with people they had just met and assessed participantswillingness to engage in casual
sex and serious romantic relationships with prospective mates (Study 3) and the money and time they were willing to
invest in prospective mates (Study 4). We frame our results using a sexual economics model to understand the role of
perceived availability in mating dynamics. Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology
Key words: playing hard-to-get; sexual economics; sex differences; evolutionary psychology
Playing hard-to-get is a mating strategy that some people
adopt to alter the degree to which others nd them desirable
as a mate (Bailey & Garrou, 1983; Eastwick, Finkel,
Mochon, & Ariely, 2007; Mathews, Roseneld, & Stephan,
1979; Walster, Walster, Piliavin, & Schmidt, 1973; Wright
& Contrada, 1986). There is little consensus on what
playing hard-to-getis, whether it works, and if so, how
and why it works (Scott, 2009). We contend that this is
because of theoretical and methodological limitations in prior
work that preclude strong inference. In this study, we use an
evolutionary paradigm to update work on playing hard-to-get
across four studies assessing both actor (self-report studies)
and target effects (experimental studies). We examine how
individual differences in who plays hard-to-get and the effect
of being hard-to-get as a potential mate provides insights
consistent with the economic paradigms used in evolutionary
psychology. In so doing, we provide a coherent framework
to understand playing hard-to-get.
Theoretically, playing hard-to-get has been investigated
with proximate models (i.e., the how) versus ultimate models
(i.e., the why). For instance, playing hard-to-get effects have
been explained with the following: (i) postdictionabout
how men want women who are not available to others but
available to them (Walster et al., 1973, p. 120); (ii) reciprocal
liking (Eastwick et al., 2007); (iii) female participants being
told a male target liked her a lot or an average amount
(Whitchurch, Wilson, & Gilbert, 2011); and (iv) female
participants functioned to create reactance, thereby increas-
ing liking (Wright, Wadley, Danner, & Phillips, 1992).
Darwin (1871) noted the role of playing hard-to-get in
mating; he called it coyness. These disparate ndings might
be integrated using evolutionary theory.
Research on playing hard-to-get has also been methodo-
logically limited. In some studies, only one sex was repre-
sented as targets or as participants (Walster et al., 1973;
Whitchurch et al., 2011). Also, previous research has only
examined participantslikelihood of going out with prospec-
tive mates on one-on-one dates (Mathews et al., 1979; Scott,
2009; Walster et al., 1973), potentially obscuring the funda-
mental distinction of the duration of the mateship (Buss &
Schmitt, 1993). Updating the research on playing hard-to-
get with an evolutionary paradigm should include analyses
of sex differences and temporal context effects.
Supply-side economics
Economic models are commonly used in the examination of
mating psychology (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004; Kenrick,
Groth, Trost, & Sadalla, 1993; Li, Bailey, Kenrick, &
Linsenmeier, 2002; Li & Kenrick, 2006). In mating markets,
much is known about the products(e.g., sexual access,
money) that are being exchanged in terms of what people
desire in their potential mates (Buss, 1989; Fletcher, Tither,
OLoughlin, Friesen, & Overall, 2004) and what they offer
to them (Cameron, Oskamp, & Sparks, 1977; Campos, Otta,
& Siqueria, 2002). Less is known about mating strategies
such as playing hard-to-get. When a product is scarce or
difcult to obtain, people perceive it to be more valuable than
if it is readily available or easy to obtain (Brannon & Brock,
2001; Lynn, 1992; Snyder, 1992; Worchel, 1992). We con-
tend that playing hard-to-get may work through creating
*Correspondence to: Peter K. Jonason, School of Psychology, University of
Western Sydney, Milperra, Sydney, NSW 2214, Australia.
European Journal of Personality,Eur. J. Pers. 27: 458469 (2013)
Published online 6 December 2012 in Wiley Online Library ( DOI: 10.1002/per.1881
Received 15 January 2012
Revised 31 May 2012, Accepted 1 June 2012
Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology
the impression of limited availability (i.e., scarcity) in poten-
tial matesminds, thereby increasing the demand for the
person playing hard-to-get. In as much as peoples percep-
tions dictate their actions and decisions, the perceived
availability of prospective mates should alter the demand that
people place on that mate.
Numerous lines of research converge on this point. For
instance, research on the sexual double standard suggests that
women who limit their availability by not having sex are
considered more desirable and rated more favourably by
men (Crawford & Popp, 2003). Research on the operational
sex ratio (i.e., the number of sexually reproducing females
to males) suggests that when one sex is in short supply,
sexual norms will gravitate toward those preferred by that
sex (Guttentag & Secord, 1983). Other research indicates that
being selective or playing hard-to-get in ones dating life
may increase likability (e.g., Bailey & Garrou, 1983; Walster
et al., 1973; Wright & Contrada, 1986). Similarly, creating
uncertainty seems to increase likability of prospective mates
(Whitchurch et al., 2011). Finally, evidence from biology
suggests that female garter snakes (genus Thamnophis) avoid
male garter snakes to enhance their perceived mate quality
(Shine, Wall, Langkilde, & Mason, 2005). Collectively, this
research suggests that limited availability, created through
proximate mechanisms, increases peoples approach orienta-
tion toward prospective mates.
Current studies
Darwins (1871) idea about the role of playing hard-to-get
(i.e., being coy) has been largely neglected in both social
and evolutionary psychology. In contrast, most research on
sex differences in sexual psychology (Buss & Schmitt,
1993; Kenrick et al., 1993) stems from parental investment
theory (Trivers, 2007). This theory suggests that the sex that
bears the greater obligation to offspring is the more choosy
sex (females in most species) and will put the opposite sex
(usually males) through testsfor access. It seems to us that
playing hard-to-get might be one way that peoplewomen
in particularcan test their prospective mates commitment
and to manipulate their prospective mates to obtain what
or whomthey want. We contend that playing hard-to-get
is an individual difference that reects such a mating
Men and women both invest heavily in long-term rela-
tionships, and therefore, the sexes tend to want similar things
in their respective partners (Li et al., 2002). Both sexes want
a high-quality mate who is willing to commit (Buss &
Schmitt, 1993; Kenrick et al., 1993). Limited availability
may signal to prospective mates that a person has the follow-
ing characteristics: (i) embodies less of a risk for defecting
from the partnership; (ii) is less likely to cuckold (for men);
(iii) is unlikely to introduce sexually transmitted infections
to the couple; (iv) has fewer dangerous ex-partners; and (v)
has a better social reputation. Therefore, both sexes may
want partners who have limited availability (Study 3) and
should be willing to invest (i.e., time and money) more in
that mate (Study 4). But because the costs women pay for
having sex are insensitive to the duration of the mateship,
menavailability should affect womens decision making
similarly across short-term and long-term relationship con-
texts (Haselton & Buss, 2000). Specically, women should
express a stronger preference for unavailable prospective
mates than men do. In contrast, when considering highly
unavailable others in ones mating pool, people may nd
them less appealing for any relationship duration. Therefore,
we predict an inverted-U function for peoples willingness to
date and have a serious romantic relationship with prospec-
tive mates who differ on availability, but we expect a nega-
tive, monotonic function for casual sex relationships as a
function of the prospective mates availability (Study 3).
Although both sexes are selective toward committed rela-
tionship partners, men and women differ in their preference
for short-term, casual sex partners. Because the costs women
pay for having sex are independent of mateship duration
(Buss & Schmitt, 1993), women should not be interested in
men who are highly available. A man who is highly available
in any duration is one who is likely to defect or to have other
partners, which may lead to his resources and investment
being shunted to other women. In contrast, because men have
reproductively beneted from engaging in short-term, sexual
relationships (Buss & Schmitt, 1993), men are likely to be
sensitive to cues for future sexual payoffs, especially immi-
nent ones. That is, men may have evolved to prefer indica-
tions of sexual exclusivity (e.g., chastity) in their long-term
mating partners but to prefer signs of easy, low-cost access
(e.g., promiscuity) in their short-term mates (Buss & Schmitt,
1993; Li & Kenrick, 2006). To facilitate access, men should
be interested in short-term mates who are highly available. In
contrast, women pay the costs of pregnancy and breastfeed-
ing in unwanted pregnancies (at least in ancestral condi-
tions); thus, women may still have an aversion to men who
are particularly available because this suggests they may ee
rather than invest (Study 3). Therefore, women may choose
men who have limited availability to minimize their risk of
Alternatively, women may play hard-to-get to minimize the
same risks. Playing hard-to-get may motivate interested men to
bid higher for women; it may also eliminate men who are likely
to have a hit-and-runshort-term mating strategy (Jonason, Li,
Webster, & Schmitt, 2009). Thus, we expect women to enact
acts designed to decrease their apparent supply more than
men do. Research on the sexual double standard suggests that
by having limited availability, women can increase their lik-
ability (Crawford & Popp, 2003). Limiting her availability
may act as a ltration mechanism, excluding those men who
are only interested in short-term mating. That is, by being less
available, a woman may increase her perceived value and, thus,
induce men to bid higher by increasing their commitment and
investment in her. In contrast, men who limit their availability
may pay heavier costs than women will through the loss of
potential mating opportunities. Thus, we expect women to play
hard-to-get more than men (Study 1).
Despite the expected sex differences in who men and
women chooseand whether or not they play hard-to-get
we expect men and women to play hard-to-get for the same
reasons. Both sexes can benet from increasing the demand
their mates place in them. Because playing hard-to-get can
Supply-side economics and playing hard-to-get 459
Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology Eur. J. Pers. 27: 458469 (2013)
DOI: 10.1002/per
increase demand in both sexes, the sexes should not differ
in why they do so (Study 2). However, what might afford
some individuals the chance to play hard-to-get over
others? We suggest that it is those who have high market
value. Just as we argued that women play hard-to-get because
they have relatively more market value than men do, we
would predict that people who have more mate value are ones
who can afford to limit their availability. People with more
value are likely to have other mating options and can afford
to play hard-to-get. Therefore, we predict that mate value will
be positively related to trying to increase demand in potential
mates (Study 2).
An implied aspect of playing hard-to-get is that people try
to inuence the mating decisions of prospective mates. Peo-
ple may try to manipulate the market forces around them by
limiting their availability to increase the demand others have
for them. One personality measure that reects interpersonal
manipulation is Machiavellianism (Christie & Geis, 1970).
Those who are high on Machiavellianism may play hard-to-
get to manipulate the demand surrounding them. Therefore,
we predict that scores on Machiavellianism will be positively
related to playing hard-to-get to increase demand (Study 2).
Moreover, we expect this Machiavellianism association to be
present when controlling for narcissism and psychopathy
the other two traits of the Dark Triad (Jonason et al., 2009;
Paulhus & Williams, 2002).
Although we expect convergent evidence with mate
value and Machiavellianism to substantiate our claim that
playing hard-to-get is about affecting ones mating market
forces, we expect sociosexualityindividual difference in
peoples attitudes, desires, and behaviours about casual
sexto offer discriminating evidence. That is, we expect
individualswillingness to have casual sex to be unrelated
to playing hard-to-get to increase demand (Study 2). One
who is promiscuous may be unlikely to attempt to alter mar-
ket forces around them because of the potential risk involved
with playing hard-to-get. That is, if sex is a priority in these
peoples lives, then playing hard-to-get may actually reduce
their access to short-term sex. Although there might be
long-term benets for playing hard-to-get (e.g., obtaining
higher-quality mates), people interested in casual sex do
not often sustain lasting relationships (Jonason et al., 2009).
In four studies, we examine individual differences in
playing hard-to-get through an adaptationist lens. In Studies
1 and 2, we describe the tactics, correlates, reasons, and po-
tential consequences of playing hard-to-get. In Studies 3
and 4, we manipulate how often prospective mates go on
dates with new people (i.e., an alternative conceptualization
of playing hard-to-get) and examine peoples interest in pro-
spective mates as romantic relationship and casual sex part-
ners and how much people will pay(i.e., hours spent
helping study and money spent on dinner) for prospective
mates who vary in their availability.
Playing hard-to-get is likely enacted through a range of dif-
ferent tactics, and these tactics should focus on creating the
impression of limited availability in prospective mates.
Therefore, we use the act nomination (Study 1a) and act fre-
quency (Study 1b) methods, which combine qualitative and
quantitative methods (Buss & Craik, 1983). This technique
has previously revealed playing hard-to-get as a mate attrac-
tion tactic but did not focus on any one tactic in detail (Buss,
1988; Fisher & Cox, 2010). We also expect women to use
the associated acts to play hard-to-get than men will.
Study 1a: nomination of tactics
Participants were 100 undergraduate psychology students
(60% women) at the El Paso Community College, Texas,
who received extra credit for participation. Fifty-six percent
of the sample was of Mexican descent, 40% was of European
descent, and the remainder was of some other racial classi-
cation. Participants responded to a single, open-ended ques-
tion: What behaviors do people perform when they play
hard-to-getwith others in terms of romantic/sexual relation-
ships?They completed this question in a paper-and-pencil
format in a three-page document. Page 1 informed them of
the nature of the study. Page 2 provided them with space to
answer the question. Page 3 included the reported demo-
graphic questions and a debrieng.
Results and discussion
Three research assistants collated responses to the open-ended
question. Items that were similar on the basis of face validity
were eliminated. Responses that were unclear in meaning were
discussed among the three research assistants who came to a
consensus of what was meant (Bulmer, 1979), leaving 58 items
(Table 1). In short, items reected decreasing availability and
minimizing contact as detailed later.
Study 1b: typicality of tactics
Participants were 491 students (34% women) aged 1845 years
(M= 20.38, SD = 3.89) from the New Mexico State University
who participated in exchange for partial course credit in their
psychology class. Ninety-four percent described themselves
as heterosexual, 3% as homosexual, and 3% as bisexual.
Thirty-eight percent described themselves as single, and 62%
was involved in a serious romantic relationship (i.e., dating
or married). Fifty-two percent of the sample was of European
descent, 30% was of Mexican descent, 10% was of African
descent, and the remainder was of some other racial classication.
Participants were informed of the nature of the study and
completed a simple measure composed of three pages. Parti-
cipants were asked to rate how often (1 = not at all;5=very
much) they used each tactic gathered in Study 1a in the
context of playing hard-to-get in romantic or sexual relation-
ships. Next, participants were asked demographic questions.
Last, participants were thanked and debriefed.
No comparisons were made by sexual orientation given the small sample.
Results were invariant across sexual orientation, and thus, results were col-
lapsed across that distinction.
460 P. K. Jonason and N. P. Li
Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology Eur. J. Pers. 27: 458469 (2013)
DOI: 10.1002/per
Results and discussion
In Table 1, we report descriptive statistics for participants
ratings of how often they perform the items revealed in Study
1a. The two most commonly committed tactics were acting
condentand talks to others.Bothmayreect the greater
perceived mate-value characteristic of those who might play
hard-to-get. In a multivariate ANOVA with all the tactics as
dependent variables, we found a signicant, multivariate
sex difference [WilksΛ=.61,F(58, 346) = 3.85, p<.01, 2
= .39]. In Table 1, we denote the signicant sex differences with
superscript letters. Overall, the sexes were more alike than
different in their use of the acts, but generally, when there were
differences, women committed the acts more than men did
(ts=1.96 to 8.43, ps<.05). For instance, women tended
not to call,not talk a lot,andstay busymore than men
did. Men used only three tactics more than women did (ts = 2.84
to 4.60, ps<.01): acting snooty or rude,saying all the right
things but not calling,andtreating others like s#@t.
We envision playing hard-to-get as a strategy of tactics
that reect a general factor designed to increase the percep-
tion of scarcityor decrease the perception of availabil-
ityof the user. We conducted a principal components
analysis with oblique rotation on the 58 self-reported items
asking participants how frequently they commit each playing
hard-to-get tactic. The scree plot suggested a single-factor
solution (eigenvalues for the rst three factors = 13.91,
2.97, 2.46), and this factor accounted for 28% of the vari-
ance. To shorten the scale, we retained only those items that
loaded .60 (Table 1). When we re-ran the principal compo-
nents analysis on the retained items, this single factor now
accounted for 50% of the variance (eigenvalue = 2.50). The
ve retained items showed good internal consistency
(a= .75) for a scale composed of only ve items (Carmines
& Zeller, 1979). Next, to verify this one-dimensional struc-
ture, we used conrmatory factor analysis. We used the ve
items as indicators of a latent factor for playing hard-to-get.
This model (Figure 1) returned a fair t (root mean square
error of approximation = .056, 95% condence interval
[.03, .09], comparative t index = .97, incremental t index = .97,
normed tindex=.94,p-closeness = .32, w
(10) = 23.58, p<.01,
/df =2.36).
We collapsed the ve items into a single index to nd
that men (M= 2.78, SD = 0.88) played hard-to-get slightly
less (t(411) = 1.64, Cohensd=0.17) than women did
(M= 2.94, SD = 0.95), suggesting that men and women do
not differ overall in their playing hard-to-get rates but only
differ in their adoption of certain tactics as noted earlier. This
is not surprising in light of the few sex differences at the
tactical level from earlier. This might also suggest that other
individual differences besides the sex of the participant are
important in understanding playing hard-to-get. We turn to
other individual differences in Study 2.
Study 1 suggests that although playing hard-to-get may be
characterized by creating the impression of limited availability,
Table 1. Descriptive statistics, sex differences (denoted with superscript
letters), and factor loadings of the frequency of commission of acts
associated with playing hard-to-get
Act condent 4.13 (1.13) 0.27
Talk to others 3.86 (1.23) 0.47
Withhold sex 3.71 (1.49)
Act sarcastic but friendly 3.61 (1.37)
Supercial conversation 3.59 (1.25) 0.41
Make others work to get them 3.57 (1.37)
Give accidental physical contact 3.51 (1.36) 0.29
Be unpredictable 3.48 (1.29) 0.36
Keep conversation short 3.42 (1.24) 0.45
Make others chase 3.40 (1.38)
Show attention to others 3.37 (1.25) 0.51
Act busier than you really are 3.25 (1.35) 0.57
Tease 3.24 (1.53)
Look at you but then turn away 3.23 (1.33)
Act like you are not attracted 3.18 (1.42) 0.46
Take time to respond 3.18 (1.23)
Limit self-disclosure 3.15 (1.31) 0.49
Prioritize other things 3.14 (1.35) 0.51
Offer limited physical affection 3.14 (1.30)
Sound busy 3.13 (1.34)
Be responsive but slightly distant 3.10 (2.02) 0.38
Act like you do not care 3.10 (1.42) 0.56
Delay responding to calls 3.10 (1.37)
Stay busy 3.10 (1.37)
Give some attention then disappear 3.09 (1.34) 0.58
Delay responding to text messages 3.05 (1.41) 0.54
Do not call the next day 3.01 (1.51) 0.58
Have limited availability 3.01 (1.33)
Be non-responsive to pick-up attempts 2.98 (1.39)
Act uninterested 2.97 (1.31) 0.58
Play games 2.91 (1.45) 0.38
Flirt with others in plain sight 2.90 (1.46)
Act non-committal 2.90 (1.41) 0.57
Remain at a distance 2.88 (1.24) 0.54
Appear unreachable 2.85 (1.37) 0.56
Be hard to get a hold of 2.85 (1.31) 0.62
Do not express many emotions 2.84 (1.36) 0.36
Show initial interest then it wanes 2.82 (1.26) 0.62
Ignore efforts to get her or his attention 2.77 (1.24) 0.59
Do not call 2.76 (1.47)
Let the machine get the message 2.73 (1.42)
Flirt but then stop suddenly 2.67 (1.38) 0.39
Seek attention but then disregard it 2.60 (1.34) 0.63
Offer limited witty conversation 2.57 (1.29) 0.43
Offer brief responses to questions 2.57 (1.24) 0.56
Do not talk a lot 2.54 (1.29)
Act like you do not want to talk 2.54 (1.28) 0.58
Date others 2.51 (1.40) 0.38
Taunt 2.50 (1.44) 0.39
Feign disinterest 2.49 (1.21) 0.55
Turn down rst few dates 2.48 (1.29)
Do not give phone number 2.43 (1.40)
String others along 2.41 (1.36) 0.51
Avoid contact 2.41 (1.27) 0.47
Say all the right things but do not call 2.38 (1.39)
Cancel plans at the last minute 1.86 (1.22) 0.43
Be rude or snooty 1.50 (1.01)
Treat others like s@#t 1.31 (0.83)
Note: Values in bold are those items that have been retained after the rst
principal components analysis.
Women scored higher than men.
Men scored higher than women.
Supply-side economics and playing hard-to-get 461
Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology Eur. J. Pers. 27: 458469 (2013)
DOI: 10.1002/per
it was inductive and only gives a vague and inferred idea
about why individuals might play hard-to-get. In contrast, in
Study 2, we generate our own measures as to why people play
hard-to-get with guidance from sexual economics and error
management theory (EMT; Haselton & Buss, 2000). Sexual
economics predicts that men and women might play hard-to-
get to increase demand. This may have been revealed in Study
1 with items concerned with creating the impression that one is
busy or has limited availability. In contrast, EMT predicts that
women might play hard-to-get to test commitment in mates
and to gain more information about them. EMT suggests that
recurrent patterns of errors in decision making regarding the
mating intentions of others may have selected for different
tendencies in men and women. Men tend to commit type I
errors (false alarm); they often perceive womens sexual
interest in them when none exists because men pay a heavier
cost for missed sexual opportunities than women. In contrast,
women tend to commit type II errors (miss); they often fail
to see mens commitment in them when it truly exists because
women pay a heavier parental investment cost from having sex
than men do. Such a motivation may have been alluded to in
Study 1 in the tactic of making others chase or work to get
them, an ostensible test of commitment.
In contrast, being currently unavailable because the
person is dating someone else and there is not a relationship
match should not characterize (conscious) reasons to play
hard-to-get well. The former denotes actual limited availabil-
ity not apparent limited availability (as revealed in Study 1).
Actual limited availability is likely an unattractive mate
quality; one probably does not want to waste her/his time with
someone who cannot reciprocate. Therefore, this should not be
a central reason to play hard-to-get. The latter reason simply
denotes a mate who one is not interested in. People should
not want to play hard-to-get towards a mate in which they are
not interested. Instead, people use playing hard-to-get towards
prospective mates that they are interested in, but it is performed
to manipulate the prospective mate to increase demand.
Accordingly, we predict that Machiavellianism will be corre-
lated with attempting to increase demand.
Participants were 290 students (40% women) aged 1855 years
(M= 22.42, SD = 6.15) from the University of West Florida
who participated in exchange for extra credit in their psychol-
ogy courses. Ninety-two percent described themselves as het-
erosexual, 3% as homosexual, and 5% as bisexual.
percent described themselves as single and 48% as involved
in a serious relationship (i.e., dating or married). Forty-seven
percent of the sample was of European descent, 22% was of
African descent, 17% was of Hispanic descent, and the remain-
der was of some other racial classication.
Procedures and measures
We created ve indices to measure different reasons to play
hard-to-get. For each index, participants were asked how
much they agreed (1 = not at all;5=very much) with various
items asking how much each was a reason they played
hard-to-get. The ve indices measured the following: (i)
motivation to increase demand (i.e., to make the person want
me more, to make the person desire me more, to make the
person needme, to make the person more interested in
me; Cronbachsa= .91); (ii) uncertainty (i.e., I am unsure
if I want to date the person, I have not made up my mind
about dating the person, I am on the fence about the person;
a= .94); (iii) currently dating others (i.e., I am seeing some-
one else, I am dating others, I am dating someone else, I am
more interested in someone else, I am trying to see whether
Results were invariant across sexual orientation, and thus, results were
collapsed across that distinction.
.65 .65 .65 .63 .59
Playing hard-to-get
Sound busy Has limited
Show initial interest,
then it wanes
Seeks attention,
then disregards it
Be hard to
get ahold of
Figure 1. Conrmatory factor analysis for a latent factor of playing hard-to-get. CFI, comparative t index; CI, condence interval; IFI, incremental t index;
NFI, normed t index; RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation.
462 P. K. Jonason and N. P. Li
Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology Eur. J. Pers. 27: 458469 (2013)
DOI: 10.1002/per
another relationship will go forward; a= .92); (iv) not think-
ing we match (i.e., I am not that into the person, the person
really does not do it for me, I do not think we are match;
a= .92); (v) testing partners willingness to commit (i.e., to
test their level of interest in me, to see if the person would
keep pursuing me, to test the person, to test the persons will-
ingness to commit to me; a= .91).
The 22-item Mate Value Inventory was used (Kirsner,
Figueredo, & Jacobs, 2003). Participants indicated agree-
ment (1 = not at all;7=very much) with statements assessing
their self-reported mate value (e.g., I am a person with a good
sense of humour). Items were re-coded where necessary and
averaged into an index (a= .82).
The seven-item Sociosexuality Orientation Index was used
(Simpson & Gangestad, 1991). Participants responded to ques-
tions such as I can imagine myself being comfortable and
enjoying casual sex with different partners. Individual Socio-
sexuality Orientation Index items were standardized (z-scored)
prior to computing scale means and averaged (a= .76).
The 12-item Dark Triad Dirty Dozen measure was used
(Jonason & Webster, 2010). Participants were asked how
much they agreed (1 = not at all;5=very much) with state-
ments such as I tend to want others to admire me,I tend
to lack remorse, and I have used deceit or lied to get my
way. These items were averaged together to create an index
of narcissism (a= .82), Machiavellianism (a= .78), and
psychopathy (a= .71). The three traits were correlated with
one another (rs = .36.61, ps<.01).
In a descriptive fashion, we also measured the Big Five.
The Ten-Item Personality Inventory (Gosling, Rentfrow, &
Swann, 2003), a measure that asks two questions for each
dimension of the Big Five, was used. Participants were asked,
for instance, how much (1 = notatall;5=very much)they
think of themselves as extraverted, enthusiasticand quite,
reserved(reverse-scored) as measures of extraversion. Esti-
mates of internal consistency returned low rates: extraversion
(a= .65), agreeableness (a= .29), conscientiousness (a=.58),
emotional stability (a= .58), and openness (a= .33). Such rates
are expected for short scales (Kline, 2000).
Results and discussion
A mixed-model ANOVA with reasons (within subjects) and
participantssex (between subjects) revealed that the ve
reasons signicantly differed in their importance for why
people play hard-to-get [F(4, 263) = 13.43, p<.01, 2
p= .05]
the motivation to increase demand (M= 2.88, SD = 1.18; con-
rming that playing hard-to-get is about sexual economics)
and testing commitment (M= 2.85, SD =1.17; conrming
EMT) were equally the most important. Uncertainty
(M=2.71, SD = 1.15) was lower than testing commitment.
Dating others (M=2.39, SD = 1.21) and not a match
(M=2.46, SD = 1.21) were the lowest. There were no sex
differences or interactions with participantssex, which limits
the utility of EMT because the effects should be localized to
women in reference to testing commitment.
In Table 2, we report correlations between the reasons to
play hard-to-get and personality measures. Given the large
number of tests, we reduced type I error by using p-values of
.001 and .0001. Higher self-perceived mate value was
associated with playing hard-to-get to increase demand and test
commitment. Narcissism and Machiavellianism were correlated
with playing hard-to-get to increase demand, to test commit-
ment, and because one is dating others. When we controlled
for the shared variance among the Dark Triad trait, most of
the relationships became non-signicant. The only case in
which they did not was for increasing demand as the motivation
to play hard-to-get. In this case, both Machiavellianism (b=.26,
t=3.21, p<.01) and narcissism (b=.20, t=2.85, p<.05) but
not psychopathy (b=.10, t= 1.45) accounted for the unique
variance (R
= .14) in the underlying motivation to playing
hard-to-get to increase demand. This suggests that increasing
demand might be part of being manipulative in mating contexts.
Prior research has manipulated availability by modulating how
often prospective mates go out on dates (Mathews et al., 1979;
Walster et al., 1973). We predicted the following: (i) a highly
available prospective mate would generally be desired for
casual sex relationships; (ii) a moderately available prospective
mate would generally be desired for a date and a serious
romantic relationship; (iii) men would have a preference for
highly available mates for a casual sex relationship; and (iv)
women should especially want a prospective mate who is
limited in his availability for a serious relationship.
Table 2. Correlations between reasons to play hard-to-get and personality measures in Study 2
Variables MVI SE SOI
Big Five Dark Triad
Increase demand 0.22** 0.04 0.06 0.04 0.04 0.11 0.08 0.01 0.33** 0.12 0.33**
Test commitment 0.20* 0.11 0.07 0.03 0.07 0.14 0.04 0.06 0.20* 0.10 0.25**
Uncertainty 0.07 0.03 0.10 0.06 0.02 0.03 0.03 0.16 0.14 0.14 0.04
Dating others 0.14 0.02 0.18 0.04 0.01 0.02 0.01 0.12 0.19* 0.07 0.19*
Not a match 0.05 0.07 0.14 0.00 0.02 0.07 0.02 0.10 0.16 0.17 0.08
Note: MVI, Mate Value Inventory; SE, self-esteem; SOI, sociosexuality; E, extraversion; A, agreeableness; N, neuroticism; O, openness; M, Machiavellianism;
P, psychopathy; N, narcissism.
Supply-side economics and playing hard-to-get 463
Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology Eur. J. Pers. 27: 458469 (2013)
DOI: 10.1002/per
Participants were 270 heterosexual students (65% women)
aged 1835 years (M= 19.66, SD = 2.56) from the New
Mexico State University who participated in exchange for
course credit in their psychology courses. We collected limited
demographic information to attempt to maintain the cover story.
Fifty-four percent of the sample was of European descent, 34%
was of Mexican descent, 13% was of African descent, and the
remainder was of some other racial classication.
Participants were solicited to partake in a study relating to
designing an online campus dating website. They were told
that the Psychology Department was asked to help the
designers of the system by checking to see if the computer
algorithm designed to match members actually matched the
ratings they, as participants, would provide. Therefore, they
were asked to provide some simple demographic information
(i.e., year in college, major, sex, age) and information regard-
ing their exercise/health behaviours (i.e., number of times per
week going to the gym, number of times per week going to
the bar, how often drinking alcohol per week) and dating
behaviour (i.e., how often one pays for a dates meal, number
of times going out with friends per week, willingness to go
out with someone who they just met).
Next, participants were presented with three folders, each
marked with an A, B, or C on the front cover. They were told
that these individuals were all pre-rated as attractive by other
students but we want to see how decisions are made without
the pictures. In each folder was a prole of a prospective
mate who had presented the same information (age 19 or
20, a social science major of some kind) as the participants
had done so earlier. However, the information here was
manipulated in accordance with prior work (Mathews et al.,
1979; Walster et al., 1973) to create three prospective mates
who were essentially identical in all respects except the
degree to which the individual goes out with someone they
just met (1 = never;2=occasionally;3=often) and their sex
(each participant viewed opposite-sex proles). Folder A
contained a highly available prospective mate who often
dated those he or she just met. Folder B contained a moder-
ately available mate who occasionally dated those she or he
just met. Folder C contained a highly unavailable mate who
never dated those he or she just met.
Accompanying the folders, a brief measure was given to
participants, in which they were instructed to refer to the
folders for their answers. Participants were asked three
forced-choice questions. They were asked to choose (with
replacement) one of the three folders for a date, a casual sex
partner, and a committed romantic relationship. Upon com-
pletion of these items, participants werethanked and debriefed.
Results and discussion
First, we examined the choices participants made for the
three prospective mates for each of the three relationship
types. Figure 2 shows the percentages for which participants
chose the three prospective mates for each relationship type.
All three returned signicant differences. For dating
(2) = 103.47, p<.01) and committed romantic relation-
ships (w
(2) = 104.87, p<.01), the prospective mate who
was medium in availability was preferred. In contrast, the
highly available prospective mate was preferred for a casual
sex relationship (w
(2) = 54.07, p<.01).
Next, we compared which of the three prospective mates
the participants chose for each relationship type as a function
of participants sex. In Figure 3, we present the percentages
men and women chose the prospective mates for each
relationship type. Men and women did not differ in their
preferences for prospective mates for a date (Figure 3, top
panel; w
(2) = 2.99, Φ= .11). However, men preferred the
highly available prospective mate for a casual sex partner
more than women, whereas women preferred both the
medium-availability and low-availability prospective mates
for casual sex more than men (Figure 3, middle panel;
(2) = 12.63, p<.01, Φ= .22). Nevertheless, for both sexes,
the highly available prospective mate was preferred for
casual sex. Women preferred a prospective mate who was
medium in availability for committed romantic relationships,
whereas men preferred low-availability mates for committed
romantic relationships (Figure 3, bottom panel; w
(2) = 14.73,
p<.01, Φ=.23).
Importantly, results reveal the predicted the inverted-U
function in relationships of a more serious nature (i.e., dating
and serious romantic relationships) but the negative linear
function in the casual sex context. It may be that individuals
are unwilling to expend considerable effort for casual sex
partners given the low return rates of engaging in such a
relationship, whereas in relationships that are more serious,
individuals prioritize prospective mates who may embody the
proper mixture of mate value and availability. These functions
were further moderated by the sex of the participant, revealing
different priorities in men and women as a function of mating
duration and availability. This might imply that a viable reason
for previous studies reporting a lack of a playing hard-to-get
effect was an artefact of not considering mating duration, asses-
sing only interest in going on a date with the prospective mate
(Scott, 2009; Walster et al., 1973).
Figure 2. Percent prospective mates chosen for different relationships
according to degree of availability (low, medium, high) in Study 3.
464 P. K. Jonason and N. P. Li
Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology Eur. J. Pers. 27: 458469 (2013)
DOI: 10.1002/per
In a competitive market, when demand outstrips supply,
buyers should not only regard the underlying product as
more desirable but also be willing to pay a higher price to
obtain it. Accordingly, we ran Study 4 to see if participants
would be willing to spend more hypothetical time and money
for a potential mate who was less available than for one who
was more available. Again, we manipulate the perceived
availability of particular mates.
Participants were 425 students (53% women) aged 1850 years
(M= 20.41, SD = 3.93) from the University of South Alabama
who participated in exchange for extra credit in their psy-
chology course. The racial breakdown of the participants was
59% White, 25% Black, and some other racial category
for the remainder. Fifty-three percent of the sample was
single, and 47% was involved in a serious relationship
(including married). Ninety-four percent of the sample
was heterosexual, 4% was bisexual, and fewer than 2%
was homosexual.
Measures and procedure
Participants completed a two-page survey that manipulated
the availability of a prospective mate as we did earlier in
Study 3 but in a between-subjects fashion (between 135
and 151 people randomly assigned to one of three levels
for availability). First, they read and signed an informed con-
sent. Second, they were given a black-and-white headshot
(six photos, in counterbalanced orders of presentation) of
an opposite-sex prospective mate who had been pre-rated
as physically attractive but varied on described availability.
The pictures were taken from a website where individuals
post pictures and others rate them on a scale of 110, with
10 being highly attractive. Attractive photos received a rating
of 9.5 or above, and the unattractive photos received a 67;
both had to have been rated by at least 100 people. The pic-
tures were chosen according to their ratings as they came up
in the rating process, whether they were headshots, and they
were not from the southeastern USA to remove potential
familiarity effects. Third, they were asked to choose what
kind of restaurant they would be willing to take this person
to [fast-food ($10), casual dining ($30), sushi ($50),
ne dining ($70)], to choose the maximum money (US$)
they would spend on the prospective mate for dinner, and
how much time, in hours, would you be willing to invest
in helping this person in order to go out with them. Third,
participants reported demographic information as reported
previously. Last, participants were debriefed and thanked
for participation.
Results and discussion
In a 2 (male, female) 3 (low, medium, high availability)
ANOVA, we treated restaurant choice (by price) as a
dependent variable. Individuals were willing to take the
low-availability prospective mate (M= 30.53, SD = 9.22) to
more expensive restaurants than the medium-availability
(M= 23.33, SD = 12.16) or high-availability (M= 22.74,
SD = 11.62) prospective mate [F(2, 423) = 21.37, p<.01,
p= .09], with no difference between the latter two. Men
(M=28.21, SD = 12.03) were more willing [F(1, 423) = 16.81,
p<.01, 2
p= .04] to take the prospective mate, regardless of
their availability, to more expensive restaurants than women
were (M= 23.45, SD = 10.66). However, these two main
effects were moderated by an interaction [F(2, 423) = 3.29,
p<.05, 2
p= .02; Figure 4]. Although the prospective mate
who was low on availability was the most desired and the
Results were invariant across sexual orientation, and thus, results were col-
lapsed across that distinction.
Figure 3. Percent prospective mates chosen for different relationships
according to degree of availability (low, medium, high) and the sex of the
participant in Study 3.
Supply-side economics and playing hard-to-get 465
Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology Eur. J. Pers. 27: 458469 (2013)
DOI: 10.1002/per
high-availability prospective mate was the least desired, the
sexes did not differ in the amount of money they were willing
to spend for dinner with the prospective mate. In contrast, men
were willing to spend signicantly more money than women
were for a prospective mate who was medium in availability.
We repeated this analysis for the maximum number of
US dollars participants were willing to spend on dinner and
replicated the main effects for availability [F(2, 420) =
10.47, p<.01, 2
p= .05] and the sex of the participant
[F(1, 410) = 45.59, p<.01, 2
p= .10], but the interaction was
not signicant. The high-availability, medium-availability,
and low-availability prospective mates were worth $33.10
(SD = 20.64), $34.99 (SD = 24.25), and $44.45 (SD =20.10),
respectively. Men would spend $38.85 (SD = 22.78), $45.60
(SD = 29.14), and $50.14 (SD = 21.56) on high-availability,
medium-availability, and low-availability mates, respectively.
Womenwouldspend$28.07(SD = 17.21), $27.19 (SD =16.10),
and $38.31 (SD = 16.49) on high-availability , medium-
availability , and low-availability mates, respectively.
We then repeated this analysis for time (hours) one
would spend. There was a main effect for participantssex
[F(1, 417) = 7.43, p<.01, 2
p= .02]. Men would spend
2.71 hours (SD = 5.05), 2.48 hours (SD = 3.11), and 3.56 hours
(SD = 6.26) helping high-availability, medium-availability, and
low-availability mates, respectively. Women would spend
1.62 hours (SD = 1.56), 1.74 hours (SD = 1.75), and 2.36 hours
(SD = 2.41) helping high-availability, medium-availability, and
low-availability mates, respectively. However, there was no
main effect for a prospective mates availability on hours
willing to invest or an interaction of sex and availability. We
thought that this might be a function of skew in the report of
hours willing to be spent (skewness =8.05, kurtosis =79.51).
Therefore, we replicated the analysis but used a log-transformed
version of hours invested. We found that individuals were wil-
ling to spend more time [F(2, 376) = 4.24, p<.05, 2
helping the low-availability prospective mate (M=0.67, SD =
0.70) than the medium-availability (M=0.61, SD =0.75) or
high-availability (M= 0.57, SD = 0.65) prospective mates, with
no difference between the latter two. Men (M=0.80,SD =0.68)
were willing to spend more time [F(1, 376) = 12.23, p<.01, 2
= .03] helping the low-availability female prospective mates
(M= 0.67, SD = 0.70) than women (M=0.55, SD = 0.70) were
willing to help male prospective mates.
Overall, men spent less money on more available pro-
spective mates, suggesting that they allocate their resources
to mates who have less availability and ostensibly more
value in the market. Interestingly, women were willing to
spend the least amount of money on the medium-availability
mate. This might be because this is the kind of mate she ide-
ally wants. He is one who is limited in availability, denoting
his value, but he is not a wasted effort like the highly unavail-
able prospective mate. By spending less money on this mate,
she may be allowing him the opportunity to prove his interest
in her and, therefore, encourage the formation of a mutually
satisfactory pair bond. Womens spending on the low-
availability and high-availability prospective mates may denote
frivolity in their choices; women might be willing to spend
For years, researchers have studied the mating strategy of
playing hard-to-get (Eastwick et al., 2007; Walster et al.,
1973; Whitchurch et al., 2011). They have provided explana-
tions of how playing hard-to-get might work but have had
more difculty explaining why it works as it does. In the
present research, we have provided the rst account of play-
ing hard-to-get using an evolutionary paradigm, specically,
sexual economics. In so doing, we examined sex differences
and similarities, context-specic effects, and reasons to play
hard-to-get and identied tactics associated with playing
hard-to-get and personality correlates. We contend that play-
ing hard-to-get is a specic mating tactic that could relate to a
broader range of mating strategies (Buss, 1988) and is used
to differing degrees by different individuals as evidenced in
sex differences and personality correlates. Playing hard-to-
get may be one strategy that reects the modulation of per-
ceptions of ones availability to facilitate ones more general
mating strategy of attempting to obtain the best mate with the
greatest commitment one can.
In Study 1, we showed that playing hard-to-get was char-
acterized by minimizing contact or appearing unavailable,
providing a much-needed denition of playing hard-to-get
(Scott, 2009). Consistent with our evolutionary-based predic-
tions, women enacted more tactics with the intent of playing
hard-to-get than men did. This could be because either
women are trying to learn more information about potential
mates or men pay a heavier cost in terms of lost sexual
opportunities by playing hard-to-get. Alternatively, it could
be an American or Western norm that men court women
and women should play hard-to-get. Future work will need
to assess the role of limited availability in non-American/
Western samples. Nevertheless, men and women were more
alike than different in enacting different tactics associated
with playing hard-to-get.
In Study 2, we examined the reasons individuals play
hard-to-get and how personality traits relate to those reasons.
The primary reasons people played hard-to-get related to
increasing demand, consistent with economic models and
Figure 4. Interaction of sex of the participant and availability (low,
medium, high) predicting the cost of restaurants participants were willing
to take prospective mates to in Study 4.
466 P. K. Jonason and N. P. Li
Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology Eur. J. Pers. 27: 458469 (2013)
DOI: 10.1002/per
uncertainty, which may be consistent with EMT, but the
sexes did not differ in their self-reported reasons to play
hard-to-get despite evidence that men and women have
somewhat different sexual psychologies (Buss & Schmitt,
1993; Kenrick et al., 1993; Li & Kenrick, 2006). We feel that
there is no reason to expect men and women to differ on the
reasons they limit their availability, but instead, they should
differ on how often they use such tactics as we found in
Study 1b. These tactics are used in the real world where their
behaviour can be constrained by other agents. Both sexes can
benet from increasing their value in the market. More
demand may reduce paternity uncertainty, indelity threats,
and other potential relationship problems. In addition, in
Study 2, we detailed personality correlates. Two in particular
stands out: people who were manipulative (i.e., Machiavellian)
and of greater value (i.e., self-reported mate value) played
hard-to-get to increase demand, which was the most face-valid
assessment of reasons to play hard-to-get predicted by sexual
economics. Increasing demand likely requires one to manipu-
late the market forces surrounding them but comes with the risk
of losing mating opportunities and thus these correlations.
Playing hard-to-get may be part of the exploitative mating
strategy enacted by those high on the Dark Triad (Jonason
et al., 2009) or the game-playingor ludic love style that
characterizes those high in Machiavellianism (Jonason &
Kavanagh, 2010).
In Study 3, we showed evidence of a context-specic
inverted-U function and how participantssex moderated this
effect. Men desired a serious relationship partner who was
low on availability more than women did, but it was women
who desired the same mate for a casual sex partner more than
men did. This highlights the asymmetries in male and female
sexual psychologies that result from different levels of mini-
mum obligation to offspring (Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Trivers,
1972). Because a woman risks more in her sexual relation-
ships than men do (i.e., pregnancy costs), she should want
a mate who has higher value and is unlikely to leave her sad-
dled with an offspring. Being a good investment as a mate
may be advertised through limited availability. This may also
be why popular press books teaching men the pick-up arts
advocate that they cultivate a hard-to-get persona so that
women will chase them (Louis & Copeland, 2007). Women
prefer a highly unavailable man for a casual sex relationship.
In contrast, because men have an interest in nding low-cost
sexual access (Kenrick et al., 1993), they prefer casual sex
partners who are highly available.
In Study 4, we showed that increased value was associ-
ated with limited supply. This could be consistent with
economic models because people were willing to paymore
for less available mates. It could also be consistent with
another theoryreactancewhich suggests that the depriva-
tion of a sexual option makes one want that option more
(Baumeister, Catanese, & Wallace, 2002; Brehm & Brehm,
1981; Wright et al., 1992). However, we feel that sexual eco-
nomics may be a better theory despite recent attempts to
revive reactance (Chadee, 2011) because sexual economics
does the following: (i) provides a priori reasons to make pre-
dictions; (ii) is linked to a set of strong assumptions offered
by evolutionary theory; and (iii) can account for effects of
reactance (e.g., forbidden fruit). That is, in Study 4, we did
not reveal the inverted-U function but, instead, revealed that
the more unavailable a person is, the more people are willing
to invest in them. The lack of the inverted U could be the
result of the following: (i) the between-subjects method
might not allow for relative comparisons among prospective
mates (Study 3); (ii) the inverted-U might be specicto
mating decisions and not expenditure; and (iii) the fact that
participants answered questions about how much time and
money they would spend might imply that they actually do
have a chance with the prospective mate. Disentangling these
issues deserves more attention.
Limitations and future directions
Although there are some strengths of our research, there is
room for improvement. First, we relied on simple methods
such as the person-perception and the dating-service para-
digms for logistical reasons. Second, because we relied on
undergraduate samples, our ndings might not generalize to
broader populations. For example, college students may have
limited funds, suppressing our monetary results in Study 4.
Third, we used a series of brief measures in Study 2. Brief
measures can suffer from loss of content while measuring
heterogeneous constructs. Future work might also attempt
to understand whoin terms of individual differences
plays hard-to-get.
Fourth, we failed to take into account mating duration in
Studies 1 and 2. Although we have no reason to predict
specic differences, it is possible that tactics for playing
hard-to-get differ as a function of mating duration. We felt
that altering mating dynamics through limiting availability
had a singular effect to increase demand, but it is also possi-
ble that the effect is more sophisticated than that. This might
account for the fair t we found in our conrmatory factor
analysis and the limited evidence for sex differences in Study
1b, which itself needs further renement and validity tests to
follow. Instead, we felt it more important to alter the tempo-
ral context in Studies 3 and 4 because, like in studies on mate
choice (Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Li et al., 2002), people would
be making mating decisions across different contexts. Alter-
natively, we may have been too reliant on an overly sim-
plied concept of human sexual relationships (Buss &
Schmitt, 1993). There are other types of relationships that
do not t well into the dichotomy of short- and long term
(Jonason, Valentine, & Li, 2012). Future work might also
examine how playing hard-to-get functions in various rela-
tionship contexts.
More work is needed to extend the role of supply-side
economics in mating dynamics. First, we have researched
only playing hard-to-get to make our case for the role of lim-
ited availability in mating dynamics. Future work could
directly test whether a mate who plays hard-to-get actually
has a competitive advantage in the mating market. Our
manipulation in Studies 3 and 4 has been used by playing
hard-to-get researchers, but it might only assess ones interest
in a prospective mates sociosexuality. In addition, studies
with more sophisticated methods would be useful. For
example, researchers could have participants interact with a
Supply-side economics and playing hard-to-get 467
Copyright © 2012 European Association of Personality Psychology Eur. J. Pers. 27: 458469 (2013)
DOI: 10.1002/per
confederate who then gets the participantsphone number
and has to call in 1 or 4 days, thereby varying availability
in an alternative way. Last, we only concerned ourselves
with perceived availability. In contrast, objective supply, like
the operational sex ratio, may be more easily or appropriately
modelled with classic supply-and-demand reasoning and
may actually have driven the evolution of mate perception
mechanisms. Future work might manipulate actual supply
and measure the resulting demand.
We have demonstrated how supply-side economics and
evolutionary psychology can help account for mating
dynamics and not just mate preferences. We showed how
limiting perceived availability has the following characteris-
tics: (i) is at the core of playing hard-to-get; (ii) is performed
more by women than men (although the reasons to do so do
not differ across the sexes); (iii) is heavily informed by
evolutionary and economic models of mating psychology;
(iv) is related to the mate value individuals have on the
market; and (v) is part of a game-playinglove style that
characterizes those high on Machiavellianism. It seems as
though your grandmothers advice might be true: absence
may indeed make the heart grow fonder.
The authors thank Jeanne Cetrulo, Janice Madrid, Catherine
Morrison, Tiffany Rodriguez, Kayla Whitworth, Joshua
Legarreta, and Amanda Lee for their work as research assis-
tants. We also thank Elaine Hateld, Gregory Webster, and
Geoffrey Miller for their editorial assistance.
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... A study done by Dai et al. [2] has explored how the commitment of one another could affect the effect of playing hard-to-get, and that for people who are not committed to playing hard-to-get person, there would be a backfire for the playing hard-to-get person. Therefore, Dai et al. [2] suggested that if person A is already committed to person B (playing hard-to-get), then the strategy will increase the motivation of person A. Additionally, Jonason and Li [3] have defined the action/tactics of playing hard-to-get in their research, with the main tactic of playing hard-to-get being limited availability. Jonason and Li [3], as well as Schnedler and Vanberg [9], claim that demonstrating limited availability sends the signal of scarcity, where the other person will value them higher due to an increase in scarcity. ...
... Therefore, Dai et al. [2] suggested that if person A is already committed to person B (playing hard-to-get), then the strategy will increase the motivation of person A. Additionally, Jonason and Li [3] have defined the action/tactics of playing hard-to-get in their research, with the main tactic of playing hard-to-get being limited availability. Jonason and Li [3], as well as Schnedler and Vanberg [9], claim that demonstrating limited availability sends the signal of scarcity, where the other person will value them higher due to an increase in scarcity. Lynn [4] also stated that scarcity enhances one's desirability. ...
... Hence, scarcer products perform better in both the commodity and dating markets. Jonason and Li [3] continue to discover the motive for people to play hard-to-get, and some of the reasons are increased demand, test commitment, uncertainty, and dating others. Reysen and Katzarska-Miller [7] show that playing moderately hard-to-get should result in the most beneficial outcome. ...
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People often want success in everything, including dating. Hence, the strategy for dating was suggested--the method of playing hard-to-get. It spread rapidly with countless tutorials and posts on how to execute the plan. Despite its popularity, this paper examines the strategy's validity through experiments and refers to previous studies in the field. One hundred single heterosexual participants, each date with three opposite-sex confederates, are then asked to record their experience. The three confederates are asked to perform various levels of playing hard-to-get by the duration of the playing hard-to-get tactic during the date with the participant. Therefore, the participant would respond to each level differently, providing the comparison between the levels of playing hard-to-get and their effectiveness. The expected result of the experiment is that the moderate hard-to-get confederate gains an advantage over the other confederates. Therefore, by using tactics of playing hard-to-get moderately, people would obtain a comparative advantage in the dating world.
... In the relationship context in which the HtG phenomenon operates, these factors can also be understood as relational or mating goals. In line with this notion, Jonason and Li (2013) have more recently conceptualized playing HtG as a mating strategy with its own adaptive value. ...
... Further, men have more to gain reproductively by minimizing missed opportunities (Haselton & Buss, 2000), favoring a general strategy of pursuit over non-pursuit. Jonason and Li (2013) found that both heterosexual women and men were willing to pursue HtG others (although men did it mainly for long-term relationships). Women were also slightly more likely to play HtG than men. ...
... These findings highlight the importance of examining individual differences in the HtG phenomenon, and the value of examining both playing and pursuing. However, Jonason and Li (2013) focused primarily on gender, and examined personality-related predictors of the motives for playing HtG, not of the behavior itself. Furthermore, existing research has not provided an integrative framework to tie playing HtG to pursuit of HtG others, and to tie both strategies to other relational factors. ...
Playing “hard-to-get” (HtG) has received limited attention as a research topic. Recently, Jonason and Li (2013) suggested that HtG can be conceptualized as a mating strategy. Attachment theory provides a framework to study how individuals balance mating goals with their goals to self-protect and manage potential partners' behaviors. Further, attachment style has consistently predicted people's sexual motives and preferred mating strategies. Here we investigated whether attachment predicts tendencies to play HtG, and its complement behavior of pursuing HtG others. Across four studies (N = 906), we examined predictive and causal associations between attachment style and both HtG strategies. In Study 1, people higher on attachment avoidance and women (vs. men) reported more playing HtG. In Study 2, people higher on attachment anxiety and men (vs. women) reported more pursuing of HtG others. Using novel measures, we found that playing and pursuing reflected distinct relational and social goals. In Studies 3–4, we manipulated attachment (in)security, and found that primed avoidance led to greater reported likelihood of playing HtG among avoidant heterosexual men, whereas primed anxiety led to greater reported likelihood of pursuing HtG targets overall. These findings suggest that attachment style predicts and shapes HtG behavior, particularly among insecurely attached individuals.
... Another concern that has ambiguated interpretation of previous research is the lack of consensus about the conceptual and operational definitions of being hard to get. In some studies, playing hard to get has involved using various tactics that purposely feign romantic disinterest in potential partners in order to entice them (e.g., having limited availability, delaying responding to calls; Jonason & Li, 2013). In other studies, potential partners were perceived as hard to get because of genuine qualities characterizing them, such as being selective in one's dating life (e.g., Wright & Contrada, 1986). ...
... In all likelihood, sexual desire for a potential partner functions as a visceral indicator of this partner's mate value that predicts exertions toward relationship pursuit (Birnbaum & Finkel, 2015;Birnbaum & Reis, 2019). As such, sexual desire should be particularly responsive to cues about a partner's value in the mating market (Birnbaum, 2018;Birnbaum et al., 2014), such as those cues that are linked to playing hard to get (e.g., having mating alternatives; Jonason & Li, 2013). In the present research, we explored whether perceiving a prospective romantic partner as hard to get during online and face-to-face interactions instigated sexual desire for this partner and whether perceptions of partner mate value explained this effect. ...
... Playing hard to get is a common strategy of tactics (e.g., being selective in one's dating life, making others work to connect with oneself) used to attract prospective partners in the hope that individuals who seem difficult to attract will arouse more sexual interest than those who seem easy to attract (e.g., Finkel & Eastwick, 2009;Jonason & Li, 2013;Walster et al., 1973). One explanation for the alleged success of this dating strategy is that the uncertainty about one's romantic interest it arouses may lead to increased mental preoccupation with this person. ...
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Playing hard-to-get is a common strategy used to attract mates. Past research has been unclear about whether and why this strategy facilitates mate pursuit. In three studies, we examined whether perceiving potential partners as hard-to-get instigated sexual desire and whether perceived partner mate value explained this effect. In doing so, we focused on tactics that give the impression that potential partners are hard-to-get and may genuinely signal their mate value (being selective in choosing mates, efforts invested in their pursuit). In all studies, participants interacted with an opposite-sex confederate and rated their perceptions of the confederate. In Study 1, participants interacted with confederates whose profile indicated that they were either hard-to-get or easy-to-attract. In Study 2, participants exerted (or not) real efforts to attract the confederate. In Study 3, interactions unfolded spontaneously and were coded for efforts made to see the confederate again. Results indicated that the perception of whether a confederate was hard-to-get was associated with their mate value, which, in turn, predicted greater desire and efforts to see the confederate again, suggesting that being hard-to-get is an effective strategy that heightens perceptions of partners’ mate value.
... Conveying unambiguous sexual interest might be efficient in achieving a short-term relationship for women, however, it is less efficient for men (Bendixen & Kennair, 2015;Schmitt & Buss, 1996). Moreover, some ambiguity in courtship communication can foster further communication between the parties, allowing for further information to be gained about the prospective mate's commitment or sexual interest, which may create a stronger foundation for evaluation and later decision-making (Jonason & Li, 2013). ...
... Coyness as a sexual strategy tactic for attracting mates was first identified by Darwin (1871) and reflects in the animal kingdom strategic reluctance to mate (McNamara, Fromhage, Barta, & Houston, 2009;Wachtmeister & Enquist, 1999). In humans, the assumed function is to create an impression of limited sexual availability in potential mates' minds, and thus may be an effective tactic for increasing the demand for the hard-to-get person (Jonason & Li, 2013). Within the framework of EMT (Haselton & Buss, 2000) the function of playing hard-to-get would be to both gain more information about potential mates and to test their level of commitment. ...
... Although men can also limit their availability, there are heavier costs for men than for women through the loss of potential mating opportunities. On the other hand, women should not be attracted to men who signal high availability as this may be a signal of future defection (Jonason & Li, 2013). ...
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Sexual signaling is subject to manipulation, and miscommunication may occur because of biased interpretations of signals, or because of strategical downplaying of sexual interest (playing hard-to-get). In this paper, we examined initial perceptions of cues from opposite sex partners along with participant reported own sexual attraction and signaled attraction in their most recent natural occurring potentially sexual opposite-sex encounter. Data on heterosexual Norwegian male and female students were collected in two largely different social contexts (during Regular Study Period, Spring 2015: N = 224 and during Freshmen Weeks, Early Fall 2015: N = 211). Results show no indication of women playing hard-to-get, or of strategically downplaying signals of sexual attraction. There was evidence of male sexual overperception in Study 1, but this effect was not replicated in Study 2 mainly due to increased levels of sexual attraction in single, freshmen women in that particular social context. For both sexes, reported levels of signaled attraction strongly reflected reports of own sexual attraction. Predictors for who ended up having sex after the encounter differed for women and men. For women, ending up having sex was predicted by the other’s short-term mate value, being freshman, and level of perceived sexual interest from the other after the encounter. For men, ending up having sex was predicted merely by their history of casual sex. It is concluded that women and men adjust their signals of sexual attraction upward or downward relative to their felt attraction to prompt further communication and to gain more information.
... This study also examined whether authenticity is associated with romantic relational outcomes that differ from a mating strategy characterized by "playing hard to get" (PHTG). (See Table 1 for a listing of all abbreviations used in this study) As it is employed here, PHTG is defined as a mating strategy in which individuals feign disinterest to increase others' perception of their mate value (Jonason & Li, 2013). PHTG has been associated with Machiavellianism and narcissism (Jonason & Li, 2013). ...
... (See Table 1 for a listing of all abbreviations used in this study) As it is employed here, PHTG is defined as a mating strategy in which individuals feign disinterest to increase others' perception of their mate value (Jonason & Li, 2013). PHTG has been associated with Machiavellianism and narcissism (Jonason & Li, 2013). Both traits have been widely linked to negative romantic relational outcomes including lying, lower commitment, and infidelity (e.g., Brewer & Abell, 2015;Ináncsi, Láng, & Bereczkei, 2015). ...
... Playing Hard-to-Get (PHTG). We developed a measure of PHTG behaviors that was based on Jonason and Li's (2013) five indicators of PHTG: (1) Sound busy; (2) be hard to get ahold of; (3) have limited availability; (4) show initial interest, followed by decreased interest; and (5) seek attention, then disregard it. Jonason and Li (2013) found the Cronbach's alpha of these five items to be 0.75. ...
We hypothesize that “being yourself” is the dating strategy of individuals that have successful long-term relationships. Study 1 examined the relationships between authenticity and personality variables that predict relationship outcome. Study 2 employed a two-part acts nomination design to enumerate “being yourself” while dating and to examine personality correlates of “being yourself”. Study 3 explored whether individuals being themselves are attractive and if being yourself results in assortative mating with authentic individuals. Study 4 determined the effect of “be yourself” mindset priming on “be yourself” dating behavior. Study 1 found that authenticity is associated with emotional intelligence and positive relational outcomes. Study 2 found that “being yourself” dating behavior is associated with authenticity, secure attachment, and low narcissism. Study 3 found that “be yourself” dating behavior is attractive and facilitates assortative mating with authentic individuals. Study 4 found that rejection sensitive individuals are more likely to engage in “be yourself” dating behavior when made to feel safe to be themselves. “Be yourself” is the dating strategy that authentic individuals use to facilitate successful long-term relationships.
... One study examined how various dating behaviors are perceived, yet focused on how such experiences are deemed acceptable prior to establishing a committed relationship (Taylor et al., 2013). Some studies have documented negative effects involved with dating: 45% of past-year online daters endorsed frustration with their dating experiences (Pew Research Center, 2020); dating rejection increased hostility among men (Andrighetto et al., 2019); strong beliefs in soulmates (i.e., predestined compatibility between partners) were associated with more "ghosting" behavior (e.g., ambiguous rejection without explanation; Freedman et al., 2019); and uncertainty about partner motivations and playing "hard-to-get" were related to lower perceived attractiveness of potential dating partners (Birnbaum et al., 2018(Birnbaum et al., , 2020Birnbaum & Reis, 2012;Jonason & Li, 2013). Some qualitative studies have also explored how daters may deal with conflict through avoidant communication (James-Kangal & Whitton, 2019), how narratives about early stages of relationships are often marked by confusion and uncertainty (Banker et al., 2010), and how ghosting can be a problematic relationship dissolution strategy (LeFebvre et al., 2019;LeFebvre & Fan, 2020). ...
There is limited research on dating stress, or stressful experiences related to the dating process (e.g., inconsistent communication, sudden lack of response, and rude behavior). Little attention has been given to classifying stressors involved with the pursuit of potential partners from initial contact to relationship formation. In the current study, we developed a novel measure for such experiences, the Inventory of Dating Stress (IDS). We investigated the factor structure and preliminary construct validity for the IDS in an online sample of adults ( n = 478). Results revealed a reliable four-factor structure (Mixed Signals, Mismatch, Ambiguous Rejection, and Harassment) across 18 items and the IDS demonstrated initial construct validity. Overall, the current study offers evidence of preliminary psychometric support for the IDS as a measure of dating stress.
... Part of this interest is the wide-ranging relevance they have for romantic and sexual relationships and wide sweeping consequences for the relationship satisfaction of those with the traits. For example, those characterized by Machiavellianism have a game-playing love style (Jonason and Kavanagh, 2010) and they play hard-to-get to increase their desirability as a partner (Jonason and Li, 2013). Those characterized by narcissism and psychopathy may have rape-enabling attitudes, engage in sexual coercion (Figueredo et al., 2015;Jonason et al., 2017;Lyons et al., 2020;Prusik et al., 2021), and commit relationship aggression (Carton and Egan, 2017). ...
Researchers have extensively explored the early and middle stages of romantic and sexual relationships for those high on the Dark Triad traits (i.e., psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism) but they have generally missed the termination stage of relationships. In this study we examined (N = 341) the role these traits play in one termination strategy, ghosting. Ghosting is when a person discontinues a relationship through silence; it is considered an indirect form of relationship termination. We found that (1) those who reported ghosting someone in the past (vs. those who did not) found ghosting to be acceptable and were more Machiavellian and psychopathic, (2) ghosting was most acceptable in the short-term (vs. long-term) context especially for those who had previously ghosted someone, and (3) those high in the Dark Triad traits rated ghosting more acceptable to terminate short-term relationships, but not long-term ones. We also found that the correlations between acceptability and ghosting short-term partners and the Dark Triad traits was localized to narcissistic men with a similar-yet-weak effect for psychopathy. Results are discussed in relation to how ghosting may be primarily committed by people who are interested in casual sex where investment is low and may be part of the fast life history strategies linked to the Dark Triad traits.
According to dating folklore, playing "hard-to-get" is an effective strategy for attracting prospective mates. However, some research suggests that this strategy could backfire if it leads prospective mates to withhold their attraction in return. The present research aimed to review the scope of research on the link between playing hard-to-get - i.e., appearing uncertain in one's interest and/or difficult to attract - and romantic or sexual outcomes. A scoping search was conducted in the electronic databases of PsycINFO, Sociology Source Ultimate, Anthropology Plus, and Academic Search Ultimate using key words related to playing hard-to-get in the context of dating. A total of 18 studies were included in the review. Research suggests that playing hard-to-get may work if optimal levels of perceived uncertainty and difficulty are achieved. Additional variables were identified as being important when evaluating the tactic's efficacy. These include the pursuer's own level commitment to the pursued partner and aversion to uncertainty, and both the pursuer and pursued partners' gender and attachment styles. Directions for future research and the relevance of sociocultural norms in dating are discussed. Keywords: playing hard-to-get, dating, romantic relationships, mating strategy, attraction.
Consumers often base their judgments on a no-pain, no-gain principle—that is, one must pay a cost in order to achieve a beneficial outcome. For example, they infer the quality of a product from its price and judge a bad-tasting medicine to be more effective than a tasty one. Although the use of this principle to infer the value of a product or service has been observed in several domains, the processes that underlie its use have not been fully explored. We find that when people feel out of control, they tend to use the principle because it exemplifies a causal relationship between actions and outcomes and endorsing it reaffirms their belief that they have control over the outcomes of their behavior. Our findings have implications for how marketers might position products and services to attract consumers who perceive themselves as having different levels of control.
Objective: The purpose of the study was two-fold. The first objective was to determine the level of rape myth acceptance of college students. The second objective was to determine the impact of social group membership on rape myth. Participants: 316 undergraduate students were recruited in spring of 2016. Methods: Surveys distributed to students to gauge rape myth acceptance using McMahon and Farmer’s Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance scale along with social group belongingness of sports, Greek life, and other student organizations. Results: Data analysis indicated students do not accept rape myths. Data specified no statistical significance, unlike past research, in social group membership such as Greek life and athletics in predicting rape myth acceptance. Conclusion: There is a need to further explore social group membership in its various forms to explain rape myths and why patterns of agreement still exist in this population.
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Theories and empirical findings of human mating are addressed in this article. Because of differential parental investment, men generally prefer short-term mating and women generally prefer long-term mating, and therefore must negotiate between their differential ideals. Booty-calls, friends-with-benefits, and consensual nonmonogamy are presented as compromises between male and female relationship type ideals. Sexual conflict in the form of infidelity, jealousy, sexual harassment, and rape occur when there is a break-down in negotiations. The adaptive reasons behind these behaviors and preferences are explored.
Social exchange and evolutionary models of mate selection incorporate economic assumptions but have not considered a key distinction between necessities and luxuries. This distinction can clarify an apparent paradox: Status and attractiveness, though emphasized by many researchers, are not typically rated highly by research participants. Three studies supported the hypothesis that women and men first ensure sufficient levels of necessities in potential mates before considering many other characteristics rated as more important in prior surveys. In Studies 1 and 2, participants designed ideal long-term mates, purchasing various characteristics with 3 different budgets. Study 3 used a mate-screening paradigm and showed that people inquire 1st about hypothesized necessities. Physical attractiveness was a necessity to men, status and resources were necessities to women, and kindness and intelligence were necessities to both.
Constructs concerning reward and threat sensitivity can be organised in several ways (along with other ideas). Which conceptual organisation is used channels interpretations of phenomena ostensibly reflecting the sensitivities. For example, a two-mode organisation in which behavioural inhibition can follow either from threat sensitivity or from effortful control (planful restraint) yields an interpretation of serotonergic function quite different from what many assume. In this view, accumulated evidence suggests that serotonergic function relates to effortful control, rather than threat sensitivity. Neurobiological tools are useful, but their usefulness often depends on psychological theory.
This study investigated an increasing social phenomenon--newspaper advertising for dating or marital partners--in terms of the bargaining process involved. Content analysis of personal ads in a popular "respectable" singles newspaper revealed a pattern of offers and requests reminiscent of a heterosexual stock market. Exchange theory provided a theoretical context for analyzing the personal ads. Findings confirmed expectations that advertisers sought to maximize their profit by presenting a positive image of themselves. In addition, traditionally sex-appropriate characteristics were claimed and desired, suggesting that shifting sex role expectations are not evident in this type of mate-selection.
Walster, Walster, Piliavin, and Schmidt (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1973, 26, 113–121) found that a hard-to-get woman was liked only if she was hard-to-get for other men but easy-to-get for the subject. They suggested that the subjects liked this type of woman because of the socially desirable personality characteristics they attributed to her. A second determinant of liking is proposed in the present study. It concerns the effect of a person's evaluation of a subject on the subject's self-esteem. It was predicted that there would be a positive relationship between changes in the subject's self-esteem and liking for the evaluator. The results demonstrated that this determinant, as well as the one that Walster et al. suggested, is important in understanding the type of opposite-sex person that men and women find most attractive. These results, and the differences between the Walster et al. and the present studies, were discussed in terms of the relative impact of the two determinants in laboratory and real-life situations.