Hey girl, I heard you like metaphorical compliments more than literal ones. Seriously — this revelation comes from a new study reporting that women prefer to be wooed with creative figures of speech over straightforward statements. Apparently, a Shakespearean line or even a “Hey girl” joke is likely to turn more heads than a painfully literal statement about pretty eyes. Besides serving as a handy bit of advice for daters, the study’s authors believe these findings may offer insight into why language evolved to include metaphorical language in the first place.
In the study, published in Scientific Reports, researchers examined how 116 female Chinese college students reacted to avatar faces delivering metaphorical or literal compliments about either their face or their house. To aid with analysis, the women provided demographic information about themselves, such as their relationship status and where they were on their menstrual cycles. Each of the avatar faces were designed to display “average attractiveness” so that their appearance wouldn’t bias the participants’ reactions to the compliments.
The researchers found that all participants — both single females and those in relationships — found the avatars that gave metaphorical compliments more attractive than the ones that dished literal ones, especially if the metaphorical compliment was seen as particularly original.
There was, however, one major difference between the two groups of women: When the researchers factored in the timing of each woman’s menstrual cycle, the majority of women who preferred metaphorical compliments and were in relationships were also in the fertile stage of their cycle. In contrast, most of the single women that preferred metaphors were in their luteal phase — the phase that immediately follows their most fertile phase. The researchers reason that this outcome probably has to do with the fact that women in relationships likely pay more attention to partners that have good genes (albeit subconsciously) — that is, the genes that makes one clever with language — than women who are single.
This argument connects to the idea that metaphorical compliments and the evolution of language go hand in hand: In The Mating Mind, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, Ph.D., says that the traits that make humans human — like language, music, and humor — aren’t just biological side effects; they evolved as a product of sexual selection. When a person hears a creative metaphor, they also get a taste of the speaker’s cognitive processing capabilities. A pickup line may seem cheesy, but a creative pickup line is a sign of intelligence — and a woman will want to pass on that intelligence to their children.
“Metaphors, which project from one conceptual domain to another, involve higher cognitive processes and greater activation in key brain language and cognitive processing areas such as the inferior frontal gyrus, insula, and temporal cortices,” the researchers write in the study, adding, “Men’s dating success has also been found to be correlated with their creativity.”
While this is study is the first to examine, and find evidence, that women find men who use metaphorical compliments more attractive than those who speak prosaically, it does come with the caveat that it only examined women from one country. But the researchers argue that Chinese women, relative to women in the West, “view love as a companionship” — so the results are likely to be replicated.
So next time you’re thinking of what to send to your Tinder match, think before bluntly leading with “You’re so hot” — what she really wants is a really sexy metaphor.