“Is It Hot In Here, Or Is It Just You?” Do Pick-Up Lines Actually Work?

Man whispering something to a woman at the bar while she laughs

When you see someone attractive that you desperately want to meet, how do you break the ice? Many of us opt for a simple “hi” or “hello,” others offer a dance or a drink, and some choose to lead with an awesomely bad pick-up line (e.g., “Did you wash your pants with Windex? Because I can really see myself in them"). But which of these approaches is most likely to succeed? Although no technique works 100% of the time, given that every person and situation is different, research suggests that your best bet is to be direct and be yourself, but steer clear of crude and sexually suggestive pick-up lines.

In one of my favorite psychological studies of all time, heterosexual male and female college students were asked to generate some pick-up lines that the other sex might use on them and to evaluate which lines they thought would be most likely to succeed [1]. Results indicated that three separate categories of pick-up lines emerged: cute/flippant (e.g., “Isn’t it cold? Let’s make some body heat”), innocuous approach (e.g., “Have you seen any good movies lately?”), and direct approach (e.g., “Hi. I like you.”). Overall, both men and women preferred the innocuous and direct lines over the cute/flippant lines. However, women disliked cute/flippant remarks significantly more than men. To give you a better sense of how participants perceived opening lines, I’ve included a selection of some the best and worst rated lines in the tables below.

Best Pick-Up Lines

A list of the best pick-up lines as determined by research

Worst Pick-Up Lines

A summary of the worst pick-up lines as determined by research

If cute/flippant pick-up lines are perceived as so undesirable by women, why do so many men insist on using them? We can’t say for sure, but some researchers have suggested that this may be a strategy some men use to advertise their sexual interest or to zero in on women who are sexually available [2]. As you can see in the tables above, there was not 100% agreement on whether any of the lines were good or bad. In fact, there was a small but significant number of women who actually liked the cute/flippant lines. Thus, although men who use these lines will probably have a pretty low hit rate overall, guys may still end up getting lucky if they use them enough.

So what’s the take-home message from all of this? If you’re really interested in meeting someone, a simple “hello” is likely to open far more doors than some sexual innuendo.

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[1] Kleinke, C., Meeker, F., & Staneski, R. (1986). Preference for opening lines: Comparing ratings by men and women. Sex Roles, 15, 585-600. doi: 10.1007/bf00288216

[2] Bale, C., Morrison, R., & Caryl, P. (2006). Chat-up lines as male sexual displays. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 655-664. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.07.016

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