Date spotting - a new activity for Valentine's Day

People-watchers can use psychology to see if those dates are really going well, says London Met expert.

Date: 13 February 2015

Image: Al Fernandez

You may have noticed that flower, chocolate and card marketers have been pushing heart-shaped red-coloured things for the first half of February.  

For some, Valentine’s Day heralds a huge amount of pressure. For others it is a prompt to tell their sweetheart just how sweet they are. And for some single people in the nation, it can all be very annoying.

Whether you are in a relationship or not, if you’re looking for an alternative activity this Saturday night, psychologist Shara Lochun from London Metropolitan University’s School of Psychology has a suggestion. Take some simple Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques and spend your evening assessing the success - or failure - of the dates going on around you!  

Shara says:

Neuro Linguistic Programming is an approach to communication developed by Philosopher and Psychologist Richard Bandler and Linguist John Grinder. In its most basic form it is a set of tools to facilitate communication; and on February 14 it can provide onlookers with an easy set of guidelines to evaluate how well the people around you are getting on.

Body Language

The easiest way to judge the success of any date from afar is, of course, body language. For NLP practitioners this means looking at the levels of ‘mirroring’ and ‘matching’ between two people.  Watch the body language of one person and see if the other mirrors or matches. If one touches their face, does the other one? Are the legs of both people crossed? And in the same direction? The more matched behaviour you see, the more in sync these people are.

Look who’s talking

A little harder to evaluate in a public space, but still possible depending on how close you are willing or able to get. The principles of mirroring and matching apply here too. Intonation, speech speed and inflection will become more similar if people have good rapport. If someone speaking quickly and enthusiastically is met with slow, dull tones, you can bet they are not having a great night.

Mobiles out?

While you might think a classic case of bad date would be signified by a phone or tablet being pulled out, this might not be the case. If the body language is matched, both leaning in to look at the same screen, or mirrored, both parties engaged with their own phones but with the same body language, this can signal high levels of ease and comfort. 


If, by now, you are a few drinks in, your inhibitions are down and you have tapped into the speech patterns of an unsuspecting couple, lean a little closer and find out if you are one of the relatively unusual people who can accurately read micro-expressions.

Micro-expressions, identified by psychologist Dr Paul Ekman, are very brief facial expressions, lasting a fraction of a second, occurring when a person – either deliberately or unconsciously - conceals a feeling; a fleeting look of shock before a smile appears, or a moment of concern before a breezy relaxed expression is pulled together. All signs of something amiss.

Obviously the prize moment we’re looking for is a facial ‘no’ before a verbal  ‘yes’ following a marriage proposal - the Holy Grail of the micro-expression Valentine snooper.

As well as these guidelines, we can safely say that raised voices, thrown drinks and walkouts are all fairly obvious date disasters – but here’s hoping these tips will help you see, more subtly, some bad, but hopefully some really good Valentine’s dates.