Q: Society and media seem to try to convince everyone that men should give women flowers if they’re trying to show affection.
But is that just media-driven fake news in an age of alternative facts? Should I try to come up with some other random gift, like a candle, to show that I’m creative or unconventional?
A: No, dummy.
In the latest issue of the Journal of “No Duh” Science for Idiots*, it was shown that women genuinely like getting flowers, it increases their happiness literally for days, and flowers even result in cognitive improvements in elderly populations.
Furthermore, flowers seem to have special effects that other gifts don’t have. Just buy the dang flowers.
Flowers serve no purpose for humans. At least, that’s the logical conclusion – you can’t eat them and they’re not particularly useful as resources. Some have medicinal value but not most of the popularly-cultivated varieties.
Yet, humans have spent thousands of years cultivating flowers for no purpose other than aesthetics and fragrance.
However, one evolutionary theory suggests that some aesthetic things, like cultivating flowers, are beneficial only because of the positive emotions they generate.
In other words, people were more likely to survive if they stopped to smell the roses – to enjoy the beautiful things in life. This causes positive emotions and those are beneficial to humans in survival.
The researchers first sought to see the effect of giving women flowers. Does it result in genuine happiness, or fake/feigned happiness?
To determine the genuineness of happiness, the researchers explained the difference of various smiles.
“Duchenne smiles” (named after their discoverer, Guillame Duchenne in the mid-1800s) are a type of smile that has been identified in research as a genuine indicator of happiness. It occurs in infants, kids, and adults. It’s characterized by contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle and the orbicularis oculi muscle.
They were pre-interviewed on various personality traits and demographic characteristics.
47 adult women were recruited in New Jersey and selected for facial expressiveness and broader ranges of emotional responses.
The researchers then went to the Society of American Florists and, after consultation, carefully selected a mixed-flower bouquet that has a variety of colors and odors and is maximally effective in eliciting happiness (as far as they could tell).
They also found some other common gift items:
How many of the participants responded to the flowers with a genuine, Duchenne smile? ONE HUNDRED PERCENT.
An effect doesn’t get stronger than this, folks.
The sweets basket had a 90% success rate and the candle had a 77% success rate.close
Also, this shifted according to age: older people liked the fruit baskets more, and younger people smiled more in general.
In the second interview, only those women in the flower group experienced an increase in positive emotions after 3 days.
Part of the reason for the difference may be that the participants were able to display the flowers in a communal space such as the living room or a dining room, thus boosting their effects over multiple days.
Candles were more likely to be placed in private areas, and sweets baskets disappeared as their contents were consumed.
Some assistants were assigned to stand in a university elevator and wait for an individual to enter by themselves. Randomly, one assistant was instructed to do one of four things:
Present the person with a single daisy out of a basket of flowers. The basket had a sign on it that said “Free Flowers/Gift! The Society of American Florists Supports of Random Act of Kindness Day! People will be receiving flowers/gifts at random, on the elevator. You can pass on the kindness!”
Hold the basket of flowers but don’t give the person one.
Present the person with a ballpoint pen with the university logo on it out of a basket (this basket didn’t mention the Society of American Florists).
Then, the individual’s response was measured and noted by the second assistant.
122 individuals were recorded for this study (around half male/female).
The individuals who received flowers exhibited the highest levels of positive social responses (remarks, gestures, facial expressions) of any group.
This was the case for both men and women, but women especially.
In fact, women who were given a flower showed the highest positive social ratings of any other group in any condition.
Unsurprisingly, people who saw the basket but weren’t offered a flower had the most negative response.
This study replicated these results in a retirement home among seniors.
113 seniors in a retirement home had an interview about their mood and general characteristics. In that interview, they were given either a:
Mixed flower bouquet, like the one in Study 1
A monochromatic yellow bouquet
Or no flowers at all.
A follow-up interview was conducted 2-3 days later.
Some seniors got a second bouquet in the second interview.
Notably, the interviews also included measurements of cognitive ability – specifically, what details about the flowers and general events of the study they could remember. This was a measurement of memory.