It’s Scientifically Proven That Flowers Make You Feel Better
In 2005, Professor Jeannette Haviland-Jones sent out three different types of packages—a candle, a fruit basket, or a floral bouquet—to 147 different women. It was a thank you gift, she said, a ruse that seemed plausible enough. The recipients had all participated in one of her recent psychological studies. But they weren’t actually gifts; they were variables. And the delivery men carrying them weren’t couriers, they were observers, measuring each recipient’s facial expressions. Afterwards, studying the results in her lab, Haviland-Jones discovered something that, she recalls, shocked her. Those who got the flowers unanimously exhibited a Duchenne smile—a genuine expression considered by psychologists to be “the sole indicator of true enjoyment.” In fact, three days later, the flower group felt happier than their fruit-basket and candle brethren. “When I saw that every person who got the flowers responded with the Duchenne smile, I thought, No, this doesn’t happen,” Haviland-Jones said. “In the emotions lab, you never get a 100 percent response unless you’re dropping a snake on people, which gives you a nice 100 percent fear response. But, happy? No.”
Empirically, Haviland-Jones proved what, anecdotally, many of us already knew: Flowers have power.
human-nature.com/ep – 2005. 3: 104-132
An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotion: Flowers
Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Department of Psychology, Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey,
New Brunswick, NJ. 08903, USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holly Hale Rosario, Department of Psychology, Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey, New
Brunswick, NJ. 08903, USA.
Patricia Wilson, Department of Psychology, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141, USA.
Terry R. McGuire, Department of Genetics, Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey, New
Brunswick, NJ. 08903, USA. Email: email@example.com.
Abstract: For more than 5000 years, people have cultivated flowers although there is no known reward for this costly behavior. In three different studies we show that flowers are a powerful positive emotion “inducer”.
In Study 1, flowers, upon presentation to women, always elicited the Duchenne or true smile. Women who received flowers reported more positive moods 3 days later.
In Study 2, a flower given to men or women in an elevator elicited more positive social behavior than other stimuli.
In Study 3, flowers presented to elderly participants (55+ age) elicited positive mood reports and improved episodic memory. Flowers have immediate and long-term effects on emotional reactions, mood, social behaviors and even memory for both males and females
. There is little existing theory in any discipline that explains these findings. We suggest that cultivated flowers are rewarding because they have evolved to rapidly induce positive emotion in humans, just as other plants have evolved to induce varying behavioral responses in a wide variety of species leading to the dispersal or propagation of the plants.
Keywords: positive psychology; emotion; happiness; flowers; memory; social distance; Duchenne smile.
“…[I]t was the flower that first ushered the idea of beauty into the world the moment, long ago, when floral attraction emerged as a evolutionary strategy” (p.xviii)…[one of]…”a handful of plants that manage to manufacture chemicals with the precise molecular key
An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotion: Flowers needed to unlock the mechanism in our brain governing pleasure, memory, and maybe even transcendence.” (p.xviii) I would be the last person to make light of the power of the fragrant rose to raise one’s spirits, summon memories, even in some not merely metaphorical sense, to intoxicate”…(p. 177) (Pollan, 2002).
The proposition that “floral attraction emerged as a evolutionary strategy” for “pleasure, memory and maybe even transcendence” (Pollan, 2002) is basically the hypothesis that there is an evolutionary niche for emotional rewards, a niche to which species far removed from mammals, even flowering plants, may adapt. Few scientists have taken this hypothesis seriously and few studies question the effect that flowering plants or other non-humans, (except dogs; Allen, 2003) have on human emotions.
Do flowering plants, in fact, increase positive emotional reaction by influencing emotional displays such as smiling or, over a longer time period, do they change moods and also influence socio-emotional functions such as social greeting patterns or memories of social events? The following studies of social-emotional responses to flowers begin to examine this proposition and to question the human emotional environment outside that of human relationships.
Although we know that depriving humans or other social species of speciesspecific social contact and emotional support is detrimental to health (Cacioppo et al.,2000; Spitz, 1946), very little research has been directed to the effects of depriving humans of other-species sources for emotional support. Humans are embedded in a larger sensory and social environment than that occupied by their own species.
Depriving humans of non-species emotional support may be as detrimental to human survival and fitness as depriving humans of any other resource.
A Brief History
In cultures around the world as far back in history as we have any records, flowers provided emotional information among peoples. Pollen was found in the graves of Neanderthals suggesting that the flowers had a place in the burial (Solecki, 1971), although the significance of the pollen is still in dispute (Sommer, 1999).
Flowers are expected to convey sympathy, contrition (guilt), romance (sexual intent) or celebration (pride and joy) (Heilmeyer, 2001). Flowers are also used to express religious feelings and in some religions are considered the direct route for spiritual communication. (Stenta, 1930). Of course, some flowers are used for personal adornment, both the blossoms themselves and their essences in the form of perfumes.
The vast majority of personal commercial fragrances have a floral top- and/or midnote. In spite of some basic survival uses, such as edible or medicinal flowers, most flowering plants grown in the flower industry in modern times are not used for any purpose other than emotional. Floriculture crops in the United States accounted for at least 4.9 billion dollars in sales in 2001 (USDA, 2003). This amount seriously underestimates the floral economy because it does not include imports.
Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 3. 2005. - 105 -
An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotion: Flowers
Naive psychology argues that flowers are desired because of learned associations with social events. However, the ubiquity of flower use across culture and history and the lack of easy substitutes for the many uses of flowers suggest that there may be something other than this simple association. Flowers may influence social-emotional behavior more directly or may prime such behavior. That is, flowering plants may have adapted to an emotional niche.