Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Unlike most of my other posts, this post has nothing to do with Romania, my research, my teaching, or culture. I thought I’d take the opportunity to share the findings of psychological research on Valentine’s day.

First: yes, there have actually been studies that deal directly with Valentine’s day and yes I’ve read it (and yes, this does show evidence that I truly am a psych nerd, in case there was any  doubt). There is an entire area of the field dedicated to the study of romantic relationships and love, I’m not writing about those. These are just the Valentine’s Day studies.

What have researchers found?

The news is not good.

The two weeks surrounding Valentine’s Day are dangerous for relationships. Morse and Neuberg (2004) asked U.S. college students about their romantic relationships in the week leading up to and the week following Valentine’s Day. Those who were not in strong relationships were more likely (2.55 times more likely!) to break up in this period than in other 2 week periods. For relationships already in a downward trajectory the expectations and public displays of love of Valentine’s Day were just too much.

It gets worse.

Generally we aren’t very good at something called affective forecasting, that is, predicting how we’ll feel in the future. Often we’re bad at it because we overestimate what our reaction will be if, for instance, our favorite sports team loses a game. We forget all of the other things that are happening in our lives that have an impact on our emotions and believe that the event will upset us more than it actually does. It appears we are bad at affective forecasting for Valentine’s Day too, but in an unhappy direction. People who have experienced a break-up found they had more negative emotions on Valentine’s Day than they had anticipated. In other words, Valentine’s Day was harder on them than they expected (Lench, Safer, & Levine, 2011).

Enough about break-ups, what about the chocolate, cards, and other gifts?

In a study of young men (average age around 20), Rugimbana, Donahay, Neal, and Polonsky (2003) found the largest motivation for giving a gift on Valentine’s day was obligation. The next most popular motive was self-interest. These young men expected something back or desired to avoid the effects of upsetting a girlfriend. Before we all get depressed by these results, the researchers also found some evidence of what they call the altruism motive intertwined with these first two. Basically, at least some of the reason for gift giving was because of affection for their significant other.

These men might have been on to something. Ogletree (1993) found that women and those who are more feminine (according to the Bem Sex Role Inventory) put more stock in Valentine’s Day. These feminine folks said Valentine’s Day was more important to them, they gave more Valentines, received them too, and marked the day by wearing red. Yes, men, it appears you really do have an obligation to celebrate this day.

Bottom line: Valentine’s Day is dangerous for relationships, sadder than expected for someone whose relationship has dissolved, more important for the more feminine among us, and (therefore?) approached with a sense of obligation, perhaps self-preservation, by men.

Well… at least there’s chocolate.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Lench, H. C., Safer, M. A., & Levine, L. J. (2011). Focalism and the underestimation of future emotion: When it’s worse than imagined. Emotion, 11, 278-285.
Morse, K.A. & Neuberg, S. L. (2004). How do holidays influence relationship processes and outcomes? Examining the instigating and catalytic effects of Valentine’s Day. Personal Relationships, 11, 509-527.
Ogletree, S. M. (1993). ‘How do I live thee?’ Let me count the valentines. Social Behavior and Personality, 21, 129-134.
Rugimbana, R., Donahay, B., Neal, C., & Polonsky, M. J. (2003). The role of social power relations in gift giving on Valentine’s Day. Journal of Consumer Behavior, 3, 63-73.

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3 responses to “Valentine’s Day

  1. We can always depend on you to help us understand the psychology behind things. Fascinating!

    • I didn’t mean for it to be such a disheartening view of Valentine’s Day, but that’s honestly 4 of the 5 empirical studies that have been done on Valentine’s Day that come up when you search in PsychInfo.
      In case you’re wondering here’s the 5th. It didn’t fit anywhere and I could access only the abstract.
      The messages of Valentines might be different depending on gender. Gonzalez & Koestner (2006) found that women’s Valentines more often shared messages of love and fidelity while men’s more often focused on praise and commitment.
      Gonzalez, A. Q. & Koestner, R. (2006). What Valentine announcements reveal about the romantic emotions of men and women. Sex Roles, 55, 767-773.

  2. Elizabeth Wiersma

    Only you Jennie:) I had a good day…loved seeing the cards that the kids made and even got flowers! I would have sent you some but, 1. do they celebrate Valentines day in Romania, 2. I didn’t know how and 3….wasn’t St. Valentine the St. of Epilepsy? That just seems silly!!!

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