The researchers found that self-images also come into play, that certain people feel themselves “deserving of the best outcomes” and are therefore willing to put in extra effort.
In one study, the researchers classified single, heterosexual male participants as “shy gawkers” or “smooth talkers” based on their responses to the charmingly named “Flirting Superiority Scale.” They showed the participants a photo of the same attractive girl; in some men saw a sharply focused photo while others saw the same image slightly blurred. The gawkers found the girl more attractive when presented in the clear photo, while the smoothies rated the blurred photo more highly.
Labroo calls this an “ironic effect,” explaining that the men who thought of themselves as savvy preferred the blurred photo because “it felt as if there was an ongoing sense of effort while evaluating the woman. And so she must be really good.”
These suitors are the same types who may be lured by the woman across the room. “The measures tap into a person’s belief that he is in control of and can influence his flirting outcomes to get the best ones possible,” the authors write, and because getting the best outcome out there is associated with making extra effort, a more elusive object seems better.
They found the same contrast with shoppers who saw themselves as highly effective: those who said they were in control of their shopping decisions and rarely regretted what they bought felt better about going out of their way for whatever they were buying. “Even if an outcome is associated with a pointless or needless effort, they can end up assuming that it’s more valuable because it’s associated with that effort,” Labroo says.
The implication for marketers (and women) seems to be that playing hard to get might attract two kinds of people: those in search of the very best and those who think they are the very best. The corollary advice from the study certainly rings true. “Marketers whose products require the consumer to exert effort,” they write, “should focus their consumers on why the product is among the best, over easily accessible products in the marketplace.”