Who is The Most Romantic?: The Brain Science of Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's DayIt’s almost Valentine’s Day and you go online to look for a gift to buy that special someone in your life. What will you buy? I posed that question to both men and women in a small research study I conducted recently. And the answers I got surprised me.

When research answers a different question than the one you meant to ask — Actually, the question I thought I was studying was about how much money people would be spending online. I had a theory that if people stated up front what their Valentine’s gift budget was, then they would be more likely to stick with that budget. So I ran two groups: people who were asked how much money they planned to spend before the shopping started, and people who weren’t. And I split both of those groups into men and women to see if there were any gender differences to the budget question.

The budget question was a bust — It turns out that when you ask people what their budget is, it doesn’t affect how much they buy at all, not men, not women. I saw the lack of a trend right away as I started analyzing the data, but then the data told me something totally different.

The gifts that men and women were buying were VERY different. Watch the video first, and then read on:

A disclaimer — This is not a formal research study with statistical analysis. It’s an exploratory study. Having said that, though, I was careful to present everyone with the same instructions, and I had people responding from all over the USA.

So here are the findings — Men picked traditionally romantic Valentine’s gifts, such as flowers, chocolate, and jewelry. Just about all the men picked these traditional gifts. The only slight deviation was one man who said he was buying tickets to dinner and a show. None of the women picked what would be considered a traditional Valentine’s gift. None. The women were purchasing: books, cell phones, pajamas, keychains, TVs….

Does this mean the men are more romantic? — Well, I guess it depends on what you call romantic. The men definitely mentioned love more than the women. The men would say things like:

“I love her a lot”

“I want to show her how much I love her”

“She puts up with me, I want to show her how much I love her”

The women did not talk about love — Except for the one woman that said, “He says he loves me”.  They mentioned that “he will love this gift”, but they did not say how much they loved the guy they were buying the gift for.

The women, however, spent a lot of time trying to find the RIGHT gift for the guy —  They wanted to buy something that “he really wants”. They wanted the gift to have meaning for that guy, not just to have a Valentine’s Day meaning. So you could say they were being romantic —  in their own way.

The gift as a symbol of the relationship — The single women thought about the gift in terms of what it would say about the relationship. If they were still relatively new to the relationship, they were worried about being too romantic or traditional, because they thought this would send too strong a message or put too much pressure on the guy to say he loved her too.

Guys go for showy — The men were definitely drawn to items and pictures that were large and colorful and showy. They wanted to make a strong impression visually with the gift. 6 ft. tall roses, a dozen or even two dozen roses, with all different colors, large boxes of chocolates and the box had to be showy too — these were all things that the guys were looking for when they browsed on the web. One can’t help but think about peacocks:

A showy peacock

The male peacock is brightly colored and has beautiful showy plumage to attract the females. The females are called peahens, and they look like this:

The female peahen is plain looking, and pretty much brown.

There are lots of courting rituals in the animal kingdom, and one can’t help but think that the whole flowers and chocolate and brightly colored boxes, and showy gifts attract the guys because they, in turn,  want to be showy to attract the female.

Take-aways — Here are some take-aways I got out of analyzing the data:

  • If you have a flower or candy store online you are mainly selling to men during the Valentine’s season. Make the things you want most to sell large and showy. Use big bright colorful pictures. I would also say to have less choices. The men in the study had to plow through dozens and dozens of choices that all seemed pretty much alike. For Valentine’s day promotions pick a few choices and really highlight them.
  • If you are not a flower or candy store, but you sell any other products online, go for the women. Women are shopping during Valentine’s week, but they are shopping for anything and everything that is special for their own guy. Have a special sale during Valentine’s week of products for MEN, but realize that you are actually selling them to WOMEN during this week.
  • If you are a guy — women like flowers and chocolates, but they want you and your time even more. Although you probably can’t resist the showy gift, go for dinner or dinner and a show WITH the flowers or chocolate.
  • If you are a woman — he’ll appreciate anything you get him, but the most important gift you can give to him is to be REALLY impressed with whatever it is he gets for you. Although you may find this hard to believe, he did NOT just walk into the store and pick out a bunch of flowers. He spent a lot of time agonizing over which gift was the best and most impressive. The gift is really a symbol of how he feels about you, and he longs for you to recognize the impressive show.

Before I close, I want to mention that I ran this study with UserTesting.com’s great service. I was able to formulate the study in a matter of minutes, and recruit men and women in a few more minutes. In a matter of hours I had lots of videos streaming in (affiliate link below).


So, back to the opening question — Who is the most romantic? What do you think? Write in your vote in the comments section.


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7 Replies to “Who is The Most Romantic?: The Brain Science of Valentine's Day”

  1. Interesting findings! I think follow-up research on what men and women ‘expect’ as V-Day gifts would be fun too. And thinking of it more, maybe it could find answers to: “What do you think your girl/boyfriend will get you?” and “What do you want your girl/boyfriend to get you?” Don’t know if the answers are already known!

    Thanks for the blog, Susan!

  2. The study did not surprise me because it showed that women like to be creative and actually get men something that they would really like, while men tend to be led by the media telling them what to get, ie flowers or candy. I used to get mad at my boyfriend for giving me flowers since I asked him not to buy them for me because I didn’t like them. I always hinted to him things that I would like to have, but never got them. He said that I should be grateful and I told him that he hadn’t given the gift any thought. I also told him that it would be like me buying him a pink shirt knowing that he hated the color pink and would not wear it. You should put some thought into the gift rather than the amount you spend. That’s where the true meaning of how much you love someone comes in; knowing what they will like.

  3. I think most of people on Valentine’s day give each other gifts, sometimes even having forgotten what those flowers or sweets should mean. Although, great article! I enjoyed reading it.

  4. The men believe that they are expect to be romantic so they are buying something what is generally considered to be romantic like flowers, chocolate, jewellery , etc. From the other site women’s know that the men are more practical in nature, so the best gift for them will be something practical, useful, not something what only makes an effect. And I don’t really think that this is a question of creativity like Janet wrote – both sides simply choose something what they believe will be the most suitable gift for their partners and both sides take an effort to buy something “special”.

    Thanks for the blog!

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