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Valentine's Day in the Lab

A collection of academic musings on Valentine's Day traditions to keep you warm in bed at night (in the event that you don't find a date).

Could Valentine's Day, a holiday meant to celebrate romantic relationships, somehow bring about their untimely end? A 2004 study at Arizona State suggests the answer is yes: Researchers found that Cupid's arrow may actually shoot down some not-so-strong relationships.

Katherine A. Morse and Steven L. Neuberg surveyed students about their relationships one week before and one week after Valentine's Day. They found that couples were more likely to break up during the holiday period than those surveyed at different times in the year.

"Valentine's Day facilitates the downward trajectory from ongoing relationship difficulties to dissolution," they write. "We believe that Valentine's Day places romantic relationships at risk because, contrary to popular perceptions, it instigates a set of processes often detrimental to romantic relationships and catalyzes existing relationship difficulties, making it more likely that these difficulties will lead to dissolution."

Some relationships, they argue, might be able to make it through rough times in other months, but the added pressure of Valentine's Day may inspire couples to cut their losses. Not sure where your relationship stands: If you've lowered your expectations for your relationship and it still doesn't quite measure up to other people's, or if you've recently noticed how many attractive and available alternatives to your significant other are out there, you might be in a low-quality relationship.

The researchers say the holiday has no apparent influences on very high-quality relationships or new relationships on an upward trajectory. But if things haven't been going so well with your significant other lately, the holiday spirit may be the nail in the coffin.

Confectionary Consolation — or the "Chocolate Cure"
If Valentine's Day ruined your new-but-not-going-so-well relationship, you may wish to console yourself with a box of chocolate. Research published in November in the Journal of Preteome Research indicates that this approach is scientifically sound: Chocolate may ease emotional stress.

The researchers found that entering into a chocolate regimen has health benefits. Eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks reduced stress hormone levels for people who described themselves as highly stressed and, the scientists report, had a partially corrective effect on other stress-related biochemical imbalances.

So if you're feeling lonely, reach for the chocolate — it may not help you bag a date, but it should at least reduce your stress about not having one.

Motivations for Valentine's Day Gift-Giving
Why do men give Valentine's Day gifts? Are they driven by a sense of obligation, a desire to be romantic or perhaps the adage, 'Give, and ye shall receive'?

Researchers at the University of Newcastle wanted to find out. They conducted in-depth interviews with 61 men between the ages of 18 and 25 who had made a Valentine's Day purchase for a romantic partner in the past two years. The overwhelming winner? Obligation.

All of the men who participated in the study thought gift-giving was expected of them, which in their eyes made it necessary. In fact, 91 percent said that if they didn't give gifts, their partners would react negatively.

The research team found that a sense of duty wasn't the only thing driving purchases. Men had a self-interest motive when they bought certain gifts: For example, 89 percent of males said they would be thinking about themselves while buying lingerie and would derive pleasure from the gift.

The researchers also noted that when asked directly if they expected something in return for giving a Valentine's Day present, 25 percent of the respondents said yes. Many of the other responses implied immaterial expectations, namely sex, with some "very descriptive" answers.

Cheap Flowers Hurt the Environment
Whatever their motivations, an estimated 32 percent of U.S. households celebrate Valentine's Day with flowers. Whether you regard the holiday tradition of giving flowers as outdated and misogynistic or wonderfully romantic, University of Leicester researcher David Harper urges you to think before you give: Cheap flowers won't just upset your date — they'll also hurt Mother Earth.

Harper pointed out last year that many of the cut-price Valentine's Day roses exported from Africa for sale in the U.K. have disastrous environmental consequences. And an article by Martin Donohoe in Human Rights Quarterly argues that the flowers and jewelry bought for Valentine's Day support industries that degrade the earth, lead to health problems, use forced labor and add to violent conflicts.

Harper suggested choosing fair-trade roses over their cheaper counterparts; Donohoe recommends alternative gifts, including videos, home improvement projects, homemade meals and donations to charities.

Before you decide what to give your sweetheart this year, you may want do a little research. If you hurt the environment, your only respite may be the box of dark chocolate you buy yourself.

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