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Men should play hard to get, find psychologists

"If I could but know his heart," Marianne Dashwood says of the flighty John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, "everything would become easy".

Now scientists have proved what Jane Austen always knew - that to secure a woman's affections, a man should play hard to get.

Their study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that a woman is more attracted to a man when she is uncertain about how much he likes her.

Psychologists drew their conclusions after asking 47 female undergraduates at Virginia University in the US to rate how much they liked the fictitious Facebook profiles of four men.

Each was told the men had viewed their Facebook profile and those of between 15 and 20 other women, as part of an experiment about online dating.

The women were split into three groups: a third were told that the four liked them an "average" amount; a third were told the men had rated them above average; and a third were told that the four might have rated them highly, or might not have.

When asked to say how much they liked the four, the men were ranked highest by the last group.

They were more popular than the men who had played an open hand and declared their interest.

Lastly, unsurprisingly, were the men who had done the disservice of only ranking the women as middle-of-the-road.

The study authors, Erin Whitchurch and Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, concluded: "Numerous popular books advise people not to display their affections too openly to a potential romantic partner and to instead appear choosy and selective.

"When people first meet, it may be that popular dating advice is correct: Keeping people in the dark about how much we like them will increase how much they think about us and will pique their interest."