Christopher Kaeser / AP
updated 2/13/2007 9:14:56 PM ET 2007-02-14T02:14:56

Looking for a romantic connection this Valentine’s Day? Stop searching the advice columns. There are some new and important things you should know, and they’re based on hard science.

Beware, for example, of seeming indiscriminate: Potential partners won’t like you if you’re acting like you like everyone else, too. And you online daters out there, exercise caution — people tell white lies all the time.

Oh, and slower is better. No! We’re not talking about THAT. We’re talking about the physics of using scissors to make those lovely curls in ribbons, which are then tied ’round the bouquet or box of bonbons you bestow on your beloved.

How do we know all this, and much more? Because Valentine’s Day isn’t just a hectic time for florists and chocolatiers — it’s busy for scientists and scholars, too. More precisely, it’s a busy time for their publicists, who know that if we’re not all looking for love, well, we journalists are at least looking for a story angle.

But really, why not? What better time to learn something new and interesting about romance than these frigid (OK, not the best word) weeks of February? So, herewith, some of the latest discoveries to emerge this Valentine’s season:

The power of selectivity: Guys, ever wonder why that woman at the bar doesn’t appreciate your interest? Maybe it’s because she’s seen you flirting with four other women earlier in the evening. Out of Northwestern University comes word that daters of both genders need to feel you’re interested in them, but not in everyone else.

Researchers Paul Eastwick and Eli Finkel used a newly popular technique: speed-dating, where couples spend just a few minutes talking. (Normally such events are held in a bar; in this case, it was an alcohol-free gathering of college students.)

After their four-minute speed dates, the 163 participants rated their dates on a Web page. The data showed that people who weren’t selective gave off a vibe that their partners, unfortunately, picked up on.

“If you like everybody romantically, it smacks of desperation,” said Finkel, an assistant professor of psychology, in a telephone interview. “The interesting thing is that people were able to sense this in four minutes.”

They're not really that slim:With the explosion of online dating, researchers at Cornell University wanted to know how prevalent lying was. Pretty prevalent, they discovered — with the caveat that the lies themselves were fairly minor.

They examined four popular dating Web sites:, Yahoo Personals, American Singles and Webdate. They recruited actual users in New York City (40 of each gender), then physically measured the differences between the online claims and the reality.

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“People lied often, but the lies themselves were rather small,” said Jeffrey Hancock, an assistant professor of communication at Cornell. There were whoppers, but they were rare.”

Specifically, women systematically underestimated their weight, and men tended to overestimated their height. For almost two thirds of all participants, weight was inaccurate by five pounds or more, Hancock said.

Curl the ribbon slowly:Ever wonder what physicists are thinking about on Valentine’s Day? From the American Institute of Physics comes word that scientists have, for apparently the first time, analyzed the process by which those pretty ribbons curl when you slide them between your thumb and the scissor blade.

Buddhapriya Chakrabarti said the question occurred to him a few years ago when he watched a florist wrap a bouquet. “I wondered whether people really understood why this helix formation occurs,” said Chakrabarti, a physicist at Harvard.

He and his team examined the way molecules rearrange themselves as the ribbon slides between the thumb and the blade. They found the three most important variables were sharpness of the blade, amount of tension applied and speed. If the goal was more curls, slower was better.

What to do with this information? If you’re not a florist, it’s helpful to know that this study of curling could be useful in both industrial technology and in nanotechnology, the scientists say.

Study up on Valentine's Day
It’s important to note that for all these studies, research has taken well more than a year, if not several. So the Valentine’s Day timing is really only creative work on the part of publicists.

Still hungry for more discoveries? The folks at Elsevier, a major publisher of science and health information based in Amsterdam, make it really easy. They’ve compiled a list of all sorts of global studies that might be relevant for Valentine’s Day. They’re too numerous to list, but your eyes, as ours, might home in on one from the University of Hertfordshire in England, which looked at women’s relationship with chocolate.

The study, in the March issue of the Elsevier journal Appetite looked at 85 women, both dieters and non-dieters, and examined their reaction to images of chocolate.

The study concluded that “dietary restriction is counterproductive and leads only to an increase in desire for that which is forbidden.”

Which seems to mean it’s better to just feel good about the chocolate. Until the next study.

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