Field of Science

Are flowers manipulating your emotions?

Are flowers manipulating your emotions in a way that improves their resproductive success? Wow! The Phactor is truly stunned by this idea; it is stunningly stupid even for psychologists. As usual their approach is it’s all about us. There is a relevant question, which is why would humans find visual signals that evolved to interact with largely avian, hymenopteran, and lepidopteran, senses aesthetically pleasing? These are not the only pollinators, but generally humans don’t find flowers adapted to other pollinators so appealing. No one will argue that humans like flowers, and evidence shows this appreciation dates back at least to Neanderthals who buried people with flowers. But there’s no co-evolution here. Humans evolved in an environment dominated by flowering plants and without them satisfying all of our material needs, human life would be impossible. Humans do cultivate the flowers we like, thus making them more successful in human modified environments and so dependent upon our ministrations that most would immediately perish if the human influence was removed. So what’s wrong with this psychological “hypothesis”? Consider this remarkable statement: “[Plants] have discovered the secrets of our positive emotional response mechanisms, and have adapted themselves to exploit it.” Oh, this hurts. It’s like the worst stuff written on freshman biology exams. No organism adapts itself; a selective agent must act on the organisms such that the genetics of the population are altered. True just as humans have selected upon the wolf genome to produce somewhat less threatening variants, like toy poodles, humans have selected variants of our pet plants to produce bigger, more colorful, different colored, unnatural hybrids, and many parted flowers, some thereby rendered virtually sterile, and our ministrations keep them alive, although since they have no biological purpose personally the Phactor, who studies flowers' biologies, finds these cultivars of little interest. These preferences tell us a great deal about our likes, but no evidence exists that the more highly altered plants, those incapable of survival on their own elicit a greater positive emotional response in humans. Do humans appreciate those more than wild flowers? Sorry, but in only the most trivial sense might floral cultivars be considered an adaptation based upon human emotional responses. A daisy did not begin to look like a daisy because it pleased a Cro-magnon. Perhaps this is the stuff of “positive psychology”, but it sure makes a negative impression on me.

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