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Flower Power: A Rose by Any Other Name Gets You Bus Fare

New research from France suggests women are more likely to get monetary help from strangers if they’re wearing a flower in their hair.
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Bus tickets. (Photo: sunsetman/Shutterstock)

Bus tickets. (Photo: sunsetman/Shutterstock)

Don’t have quite enough change for the bus, but wary of asking strangers for help? Newly published research suggests you should follow the instructions of a classic 1960s pop song: Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

In an experiment conducted in the south of France, pedestrians were more likely to agree to a request for bus fare if the woman making it wore a rose-festooned barrette.

"Exposure to flowers elicits a positive emotion and fosters social relationships."

“Both men and women more readily helped those with the hair ornamentation,” psychologists Jordy Stefan and Nicolas Gueguen of the Universite de Bretagne-Sud write in the journal Psychological Reports.

Their experiment was conducted one late-fall afternoon in the small city of Lorient, on the south coast of Brittany. It was carried out by two 19-year-old women, who were positioned in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic in two different parts of town.

The young women alternated between wearing no hair ornament, or a barrette with a synthetic red rose attached. With a diameter of seven centimeters (nearly three inches), it was clearly visible to the people they approached.

Each approached 120 people who appeared to be in their 30s. Polite and smiling, they asked, “Excuse me, sir/madame, would you happen to have a euro for the bus?”

The pedestrians responded positively 76.7 percent of the time when the woman was wearing the flower. Without it, they provided the money only 50.8 percent of the time.

As the researchers note, the results are in line with those of other studies that have found “exposure to flowers elicits a positive emotion and fosters social relationships.” They point to a 2012 study that found drivers are more willing to pick up hitchhikers holding flowers, and a 2005 study that found “people receiving flowers initiate conversation more frequently or stand closer to others than those who did not receive them.”

Perhaps the sight of the flower increased people’s willingness to stop for a moment to chat with the woman, which in turn increased the likelihood they would give her money.

In any event, Stefan and Gueguen write, the results provide further evidence that “human interaction between two strangers can be influenced by subtle cues of physical appearance.” And that flowers have powers we are just beginning to understand.