Sunday, May 16, 2010
Look at this to feel happier
In their second experiment, the researchers tested men too. They targeted 122 people who got into a university library elevator alone. They presented them with either a Gerber daisy (a brightly coloured flower about 4'' across) or a pen with a university inscription. They found that - regardless of their sex - people given a flower were more likely to respond with a 'true' smile, stood closer to the gift-giver and were more likely to start up a conversation, than people given a pen.
In the third experiment, the researchers sent bouquets of flowers to 113 elderly people living in retirement homes. The experiment lasted two weeks with the seniors keeping a log book of their social contacts and undertaking a final memory test. Half the people received one bouquet of flowers, one-quarter got two bouquets (a week apart) and the remainder received nothing (until after the experiment). Predictably, those that were given flowers showed an improvement in mood, with seniors that received two bunches feeling more positive than those that got one. Although none of the seniors changed how often they interacted with other people, those that received flowers did much better on the subsequent memory test.
I particularly liked the comments that the researchers made about their flower research.
"Some participants responded with such unusual (for experimental studies) emotional displays that we were unprepared to measure them... In many years of studying emotions, we have never [before] received hugs and kisses, thank you notes or photographs, not even for candy, doughnuts, decorated shirts or hats, gift certificates, or direct monetary payment; the flowers are different."
But why do people react like this?
Is it that we've learned to associate flowers with positive social interactions? But if this is the case, why did the men in these experiments react in the same way as the women? Giving flowers to men is not big in North American culture.
It seems more likely that our positive response to flowers arose early in our nomadic hunter-gatherer days. After all, flowers indicate that an area will be rich in food in the not too distant future. However, if our liking for flowers is related to food resources, wouldn't we be attracted more strongly to fruit or nuts (i.e. the actual presence of food) rather than flowers (the promise of food)?
Maybe the traits that flowers have evolved to attract their pollinators (usually insects or birds) are characteristics that humans also find attractive. People are known to find symmetry appealing and to be stimulated by bright colours. And more than 80% of commercially available perfumes contain floral fragrances.
Whatever the reason for our positive response to flowers, one thing is certain: you should get out there and enjoy some!
Haviland-Jones, J., Rosario, H. H., Wilson, P. & McGuire, T. R. 2005. An environmental approach to positive emotions: flowers. Evolutionary Psychology, 5: 104-132.