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Top 25 of 2013: Sweet little nothings

December 18, 2013
David Henningsen

David Henningsen

As 2013 draws to a close, NIU Today offers a look back at 25 of the top stories from the year.

No. 13

Mistletoe in your near future? Office holiday party? Need some advice on how to interpret those subtle overtures coming your way?

David Henningsen, an NIU professor of communication, bestowed a Valentine’s Day present to the world in 2013 when he spoke to the Wall Street Journal – and NIU Today – about his research on flirting.

“You can’t assume that all or even most flirtations have underlying sexual motivations,” Henningsen says. “People often use the allure of the possibility of sexual interest to help achieve other goals.”

Henningsen defines flirting as goal-directed but says it is also ambiguous – it might or might not convey sexual interest. His research and study of a long line of academic literature has identified these six specific reasons why people flirt:

  • To facilitate sexual contact.
  • To advance an existing relationship.
  • To explore the potential for a romantic relationship.
  • To encourage someone to do something for you.
  • To foster self-esteem.
  • To have fun.

While people often associate flirting with seduction, Henningsen says sex is actually among the least common goals.