Playing Hard-to-Get: A New Look at an Old Strategy

Laurie Houle, Erin Barker, Emily Pronin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-383
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Sex Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Playing Hard-to-Get: A New Look at an Old Strategy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this