Science: Why flowers never perish as a gift
What possible use is a gift of flowers? It's a question that can be as mystifying to men as it is obvious to women. But two British mathematiciansboth malesay that they've finally cracked the puzzle.
Writing in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Peter Sozou and Robert Seymour of University College London used a mathematical model to simulate the role of "courtship gifts" in human relationships. Offering a potential mate an expensive gift makes sense, they note, by signaling financial means and a long-term interest in the target of largess. But there's a risk for generous lovers: Men who offer practical presents, the researchers say, run the risk of being exploited, kicked to the curb as soon as they've delivered the goods.
By setting up a computer program to simulate gift giving as a game, the researchers say they've hit upon the solution. Extravagant gifts that can't be returned or enjoyed with someone elsean evening at the theater, say, or perishable flowersshow ability and intent while cutting out the possibility of exploitation.
The model has its flawsand not just because it reduces the subtle interplays of human courtship to crass economic exchange. The assumption that gifts such as expensive dinners are "useless," for example, discounts the possibility that some women might enjoy fine dining enough to date a toad with good taste and a fat wallet, for example, or that for some men, dropping a few hundred dollars to boost their chances of a brief fling seems like a pretty good deal. And it tends to overlook the possibility that a woman could actually afford her own Elton John tickets and might even buy flowers for a man.
Still, the study does help shed some light for clueless gift givers and suggests a strategy for the romantically paranoid.
Even if the reasoning is suspect, Sozou and Seymour's advice is sound: When it comes to romantic presents, flowers beat kitchen appliances every time.