How Your Body Reacts When You Flirt With Someone

It may have originated some 500 million years ago among primitive humans, but the mating ritual of flirting is still very much alive and well today. Witness it in bars, gyms, and grocery stores around the world. Although it may take different forms these days (think of online dating) flirting still causes a riot of effects in the body.

Some of these physical effects may be visible to the dreamy person with whom you're having a tête-à-tête, while others are invisible, from a change in metabolism, to the secretion of certain neurochemicals, to different parts of the brain lighting up.

In essence, the classic hair-flip maneuver and the smoldering come-hither stare are actions rooted in the brain and its neurochemicals. The very unsexy-sounding amygdala, the part of the brain that controls emotions such as fear and pleasure, drives our desire for sex and love (per Fusion). The intertwining of fear and pleasure plays a big part in flirting. As humans have evolved, we have developed a communication ritual that shares two messages: "Don't be afraid, I'm harmless" and "I'm really interested in you." Flirting is walking a tightrope between showing interest, but not too much, lest you scare away your person of desire.

The hidden effects of flirting

Once the innate fear has been disabled, the brain shifts into attraction mode. In both men and women, dopamine, a feel-good hormone, is released and the body begins to send out non-verbal signs to your flirtation partner (per YourTango). For men, another hormone important to attraction is vasopressin; for women, it's oxytocin. Vasopressin kind of "moves it into his body more," while oxytocin has to do with females "building trust," according to biologist Dawn Maslar. These hormones encourage the initial physical attraction to progress to something deeper.

You know how your heart races when you're with someone you're attracted to? That's one cue that the sympathetic nervous system has been triggered. Other signs of its involvement are a rise in blood pressure, sweaty palms, and blushing. The nervousness you (or your flirting partner) are feeling causes a rise in adrenaline and an increase in blood flow.

Oddly enough, while lots of things are ramping up in your body, your metabolism is slowing down. The body is moving blood flow away from the digestive system, giving you that unmistakable feeling of butterflies in your stomach, says Maslar.

The visible effects of flirting

Once the hormones are bubbling up, flirting moves to a new level, as the body sends subconscious nonverbal messages. A big one is eye contact. Prolonged eye contact leads to the release of that bond-forming hormone oxytocin (per Elite Daily). While you're staring into each other's eyes, the images received by the brain's vision center are sent to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain involved in sexual behavior that regulates the secretion of oxytocin. Oh, and while you're maintaining eye contact, you may notice that your date's pupils are dilated, an indication they're sexually attracted. Good for you!

Other messages are relayed through body language, such as shrugging (a submissive gesture that shows you're harmless), talking with palms held up (makes the other person feel relaxed), leaning toward them (interest), and mirroring (partners mimic each other's actions, making them feel they're on the same page).

Flirting partners may even laugh — not a nervous twitter, which will mean something different — a sign that they're establishing trust and a connection. And, as you might have guessed, our old friend oxytocin is released when a bond forms between two flirters. It just may be the start of something good.