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These rules dictate where, when, with whom and in what manner we flirt.We generally obey these unofficial laws instinctively, without being conscious of doing so.

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This is a very obvious example, but the more complex and subtle aspects of flirting etiquette can be confusing – and most of us have made a few embarrassing mistakes.

Research shows that men find it particularly difficult to interpret the more subtle cues in women's body-language, and tend to mistake friendliness for sexual interest.

Another problem is that in some rather Puritanical cultures, such as Britain and North America, flirting has acquired a bad name.

According to some evolutionary psychologists, flirting may even be the foundation of civilisation as we know it.

They argue that the large human brain – our superior intelligence, complex language, everything that distinguishes us from animals – is the equivalent of the peacock's tail: a courtship device evolved to attract and retain sexual partners.

Our achievements in everything from art to rocket science may be merely a side-effect of the essential ability to charm.

Like every other human activity, flirting is governed by a complex set of unwritten laws of etiquette.

Flirting is much more than just a bit of fun: it is a universal and essential aspect of human interaction.

Anthropological research shows that flirting is to be found, in some form, in all cultures and societies around the world.

Flirting is a basic instinct, part of human nature.

This is not surprising: if we did not initiate contact and express interest in members of the opposite sex, we would not progress to reproduction, and the human species would become extinct.

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