Playing hard to get 'love's big secret'
The adage "Treat them mean and keep them keen", which is used by men as well as women, is a sound evolutionary strategy to get a good mate, researchers say.
According to the new study, playing hard to get tests the commitment and quality of any would-be mate.
For the study, the researchers identified 58 different hard-to-get strategies used, from on/off flirting and being snooty to using voicemail to intercept calls from prospective partners.
"Playing hard to get might be one way that people - women in particular - can test their prospective mate's commitment and to manipulate their prospective mates to obtain what - or whom - they want," the Independent quoted the psychologists, who carried out the study, as saying.
"We revealed that the more unavailable a person is, the more people are willing to invest in them. It seems as though your grandmother's advice might be true - absence may indeed make the heart grow fonder," they said.
In the study, the researchers carried out four separate projects involving more than 1,500 people, looking at playing hard to get as a mating strategy to see how and why it works. The men and women were quizzed about what tactics they used, how often they employed them and which strategies were the most effective.
Women used the tactics more than men and that, according to the researchers, could be because women are trying to learn more information about a potential mate as they have more to lose in terms of pregnancy or it could be because men fear they might lose out on sexual opportunities by overplaying the tactic.
"Because a woman risks more in her sexual relationships than men do - pregnancy costs - she should want a mate who has higher value and is unlikely to leave her saddled with an offspring," the report said.
The top-ranked tactic was appearing highly self-confident, followed by talking to other people and withholding sex.
Several tactics were used more by women than men, including sarcasm, withholding sex, sounding busy, teasing, flirting with other people, using the answerphone and turning down the first few dates.
Men playing hard to get used only three of the tactics more often than women - acting snooty or rude, saying all the right things but not calling and treating others like shit.
The researchers, from the University of Western Sydney and Singapore Management University, said that the goal of this behaviour was to secure a high-quality mate who was willing to commit.
"This study blends traditional thinking with some modern. To get her man in the 1950s movie The Pajama Game, professional virgin Doris Day withholds sex until her underlying contractual demands are met. But psychologists and therapists would call this strategy outdated on the grounds that she'd most likely attract an incompatible mate who would tire of her once the challenge had vanished," Phillip Hodson from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and author of Men, An Investigation into the Emotional Male said.
The study has been published in the European Journal of Personality.