Buffer Me

Thursday, February 14, 2019


Ohhh hello hellooo dear English speaking-thinking-reading-hearing listener, welcome back to me, @sciencemug, the blog-podcast-twitter&Instagram accounts-entity behind an unsuccessful e-shop that tells you science stories from a dystopian parallel dimension where: 1) volcanoes erupts hot chocolate and anatomically accurate hearth-shaped anise candy, 2) bunnies have enslaved all the dentists of the world using evil hypnotic carrots-sticks which flash orange light beams and fluffy thoughts, 3) roses rule with an iron-yet-scented fist all the countries which name starts with ‘L’, and 4) nothing at all make sense except for Kenny’s mumbling.
Aaand that does all of this in Eng?ish, a language that is to real English what a dolphin is to a fish and The Fast and the Furious 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, The Fate of the Furious, and Hobbs & Shaw are to something else than a sorry excuse to make money.

PiPs Valentine's Day by @sciencemug
PiPs Valentine's Day by @sciencemug

Today’s the most artificial and fake festivity of the year folks, so happy Valentine’s Day and, for that, I bring you an almost interesting science Valentine’s story (by the way, if you do need a last minute gift, well pal, check out my love e-book, or explore the “Love & its accomplices” collection of my e-shop! Yeah, I know, such a coherent blog I am…)

Sooo, the story.
Vivian Zayas, Gayathri Pandey and Joshua Tabak (aka the VGTs) are three folks from the Department of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA. JT works also for a little company that you may or may not have heard ‘bout, but that’s nevertheless renowned to do care about privacy and to not at all abuse its position to pry into/profit on its users personal data: Facebook, Inc., Menlo Park, CA, USA.

The three fellas do a study and find out that -brace yourself folks, ‘cause this is a huge revelation, huge-: “red roses and gift chocolates are judged more positively in the U.S. near Valentine’s Day” (P). And they publish their finding on the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Oh man, if I don’t love psychology papers…

Podcast on iTunes
Episode on Podcast Machine 
(Background song in the "commercial break": Love Wins by Lee Rosevere; CC4.0)

Ok, jokes aside, there’s (not much) more: indeed the researchers say that their finding is the first evidence of naturally occurring cultural priming(P).


Ok, let’s try and explain step by step what on earth is the cultural priming thing.

One: the VGTs call red roses and chocolates “attitude objects
(P). Now, in pshycologish, attitude's definition starts complex and broad with the 1935 Allpor’s one: “a mental and neural state of readiness, organized through experience, exerting a directive and dynamic influence upon the individual's response to all objects and situations with which it is related” (1)… Yeah dude, me neither.
Then the ‘70s come, and everything’s chillier, more relaxed and, like skirts, shorter: “Attitudes are likes and dislikes” [Daryl Bem, 1970 (1)].
Moreover, nowadays, attitudes are equated with “evaluative judgments” (1).

Two: the VGTs say that attitude objects are like a network of inter-joined units, so that,

any time one thinks of an attitude object, a bunch of things comes to his/her mind. Some of these things arise from “chronic influences (P), others are just triggered by some recent event/experience.
Take the roses for example. When a person is asked to perform an evaluative judgment on those flowers, many things come to his/her mind: the physical features of the roses, personal experiences linked to them, or the importance they have in connection with some possible goal that person has at the moment of the evaluation.
Like, if one has just been wounded by a rose, the most immediately accessible aspect in the evaluative judgment process could be the thorns; while, if someone has just be given a rose by his/her significant other, the rose as a symbol of love could be the most immediate aspect of the flower that is used by him/her in his/her evaluation.

Given this, according to our researchers, along with chronic influences, what “will exert the greatest influence on evaluations(P) is whatever is mostly accessible, among the attitude object related things (thorns or love, in our example), that comes into one’s mind at the moment of such an evaluation.

With all the just mentioned stuff in mind, dear reader, we can finally land on the cultural priming thing, ‘cause our three researchers say that: “one source of contextual influence on evaluations are meaningful events that occur naturally in a culture, such as a National Holiday
(P) and they call this, indeed, “cultural priming(P).

Given all of that, the VGTs' idea is the following: in the U.S. Valentine’s Day culturally involves love. As Valentine’s Day comes closer, “roses and chocolates should be evaluated based on their associations with love, more so than at other times of the year. And because the concept of love is positive” (
P) “instead of being evaluated similarly across time, evaluations of roses and chocolates increase in positive as Valentine’s Day approaches” (P).

red roses and chocolates by @sciencemug
Free pics by Ali Khorshidi (rose) and by Jasmine Waheed (chocolates) on Unsplash
Adapted by @sciencemug

So the VGTs first check the existence of an actual link between Valentine’s Day and related symbols relevance increase, and the relevance increase of roses-love and chocolates-love association.
To do that our psychology-trio uses “Google Trends [...] a web tool of Google Inc., freely available [...] that has been used in past research to quantify changes over time in Internet-based information seeking” (P).
The VGTs check Google Trends data from 2004 and 2016, and find out that the frequency of searching for “roses” and “chocolates” always goes up as Valentine’s Day nears, peaks on V’s Day, and goes down after V’s Day.
On the other end, this doesn’t happen when the query is “online dating”, that is a query about an attitude object associated with relationships but not necessarily love. As a matter of fact our researchers do another experiment [that I don’t tell you here, dear reader, ‘cause, well, honestly, I don’t feel like (see P_SM)] that shows how online dating stuff is less related to love than roses and chocolates.

Once done this, our three researchers use Google Consumer Surveys (GCS) to do two identical surveys.
GCS works like this: people that want to get to some web content that requires payment (e.g. a newspaper article), are asked to pay for it, instead of by money, by taking a usually less than ten questions long survey.
The VGTs do the first survey from 3 February to 7 February 2015 (survey 1, far from V’s Day), and the second one from 12 February to 14 February 2015 (survey 2, close to V’s Day).
In the surveys the researchers first show the viewer three images: roses, chocolates, an online dating product, and ask: “Do you like this category?” “1 star (not at all) to 5 stars (extremely)” (
Then the trio asks the respondents: “Which of the following describes your CURRENT relationship status?”, “Single; NOT interested in dating; single; interested in meeting someone; dating more than one person; dating only one person; partnership/married; other
Finally, the researchers ask the viewer whether he/she have ever been divorced (“yes, no, or not applicable) (P).

14,793 people take the surveys, and between the data collected by Google Consumer Survey and the direct answers given to the questions, the VGTs obtain infos about gender, age (18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65+), income, urban density (urban, suburban, rural, unknown) and geographic region residence of the respondents.

The roses&chocolates research group, then, does a lot of statistical analysis, and comes to some conclusion.

That I’ll tell you after the break.

It’s Valentine’s Day and you’re all alone, in your cold empty flat, with a crappy signal, remains of cheap comfort food all over your blanket, and a nonaffective cat which only minds its own business and definitely likes your neighbor's welcome mat way more than you?
Call 555-VALENTINEWHO?-000 and listen to one of our operators while he/she performs a

lizard Valentine's Day by@sciencemug
Free pic by Егор Камелев on Unsplash
Adapted by @sciencemug

half an hour totally out of tune imitation of a lizard singing “You’re not alone” by Olive accompanied by a native Tasmanian Mariachi quartet.
That will make you feel even more miserable, but I will be 20 bucks closer to a swimming pool in my backyard... So you won’t be totally worthless after all!

The VGTs, thanks to their surveys, find out a lot of things (ok, don’t expect anything that rock your world here, buddy).
Chocolates were evaluated more positively than roses, and roses more positively than the online dating product.
Women gave stronger positive evaluations of roses and chocolates and more negative evaluations of the online dating product than men.
The older the respondents, the less positive their evaluation of roses, chocolates and dating product.
The “single and not interested in dating” folks were the least enthusiast about roses and chocolates, while the “single and interested in dating” were - surprise surprise! - the more enthusiast about the online dating product.
Besides, when the results of the two surveys are compared, it comes out that the time around Valentine’s Day (survey 2) led to a more positive evaluation of roses and chocolates compared to the online dating product, while there was no “significant difference in the effect of Valentine’s Day on evaluations between roses and chocolates” (
Finally, our researchers learn that “neither respondent gender nor relationship status moderated the effect of proximity to Valentine’s Day on evaluations of roses and chocolates. Similarly, despite the large age range (18–65 years old) in [the] sample, all age groups showed the predicted increase in positivity of roses and chocolates in [survey] 2 vs. [survey] 1, with the sole exception being respondents’ ages 18–24 years old who did not show an appreciable increase in positivity of roses” (
P) ah, these cold cold youngsters...

Sooo, dear at-this-point-probably-checking-your-Tinder-profile-and/or-bored-to-death reader, let’s sum up.
The VGTs find that, for people, the association roses-love and chocolates-love is way stronger than the on-line dating products-love one.
Then the researchers verify that, as Valentine’s day salience increases, the relevance of associated symbols like roses and chocolates increases too.
Moreover, the psychological trio performs two surveys on thousands of men and women and proves that their evaluative judgments of roses and chocolates, unlike of on-line dating products, increase in positivity as Valentine’s Day nears.

After all of that, the VGTs can finally say that their idea is true, that they are right, and that people do like roses and chocolates better around Valentine’s Day ‘cause they are culturally primed to do that.

But, dear smart reader, I know you now are thinking that the VGTs results could be explained differently.
Like, for instance: by that “objects that are encountered more frequently (in this case, roses and chocolates during the Valentine’s Day season) increase in positivity” (
P), a phenomenon called mere exposure” (P).
Eeeeh, nope pal, ‘cause the VGTs say that mere exposure is studied applying new and unfamiliar stimuli to people (like showing Homer a vegan donut or Ben Afflek a good acting performance), and, in this case, red roses and chocolates are far from being unfamiliar to the U.S. citizens, in fact every year “$1.7 billion are spent on chocolates and $2.1 billion on flowers around Valentine’s Day [...]. For flower purchases, Valentine’s Day ranks No. 1 among all the U.S. holidays” (
Besides “marketing campaigns for Valentine’s Day begin around January 2nd [...], and [are] characterized by shops stocking their shelves with Valentine’s Day gifts. But, [the VGTs] data show a pronounced increase in positivity of roses and chocolates the week prior to Valentine’s Day. Thus, a mere exposure account is inconsistent with the observed findings” (

Two other possible explanations are “cognitive dissonance [...] and goals framework” (
P), that is, veeery poorly speaking, the more you spend for something thinking it can get you to your goal, the more you are induced to value it positively to justify your investment.
But, again, the VGTs show that this is not the case. In fact single people spend more than married people on Valentine’s Day gifts (I wonder what the goal framework be here...), and men even twice as women (and here?), and “yet, neither gender nor relationship status appreciably moderate the effect of Valentine’s Day on evaluations of roses and chocolates” (

So, dear reader, the next questions the VGTs are going to address in the U.S. are: does corn get a more positive evaluation near Thanksgiving? Or pumpkins near Halloween? Or the bald eagle near the Independence Day? (
P). I suggest also snow on Christmas, and aspirin on Sunday mornings.

But the more important question is: will this blog have a less positive evaluation in France around this day?

Take care mate, and don’t stress out for a very fake day, even if it increases the positivity of stuff (but buy my love book, or some of my love stuff, ‘cause that will increase the positive evaluation of my bank account for sure!).


The paper this post is about (P)

1-  Norbert Schwarz, Bohner Gerd (2001). The construction of attitudes. In Intrapersonal Processes. Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology. (Blackwell) 436–457.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment dear reader!