Hůla M., Flegr J. 2021: Habitat selection and human aesthetic responses to flowers. Evolutionary Human Sciences, 3: e5. DOI: 10.1017/ehs.2020.66
Although the aesthetic appreciation of flowers is a well-known aspect of human behaviour, theories explaining its origin are missing. The only exception is the evolutionary theory of Heerwagen and Orians. Surprisingly, it has not yet been empirically tested. The authors suggest that humans aesthetically respond to flowers because they signal food availability. The logic of the theory implies that fruits are more reliable and direct food availability signals than flowers. Therefore, fruits should elicit stronger aesthetic responses than flowers. To test this assumption, we performed two online studies in the Czech Republic. The participants (n = 2792 and 744, respectively) indicated on a six-point scale their aesthetic response to photographs of 14 edible Czech plant species (study A) and 20 edible plant species from the African savannas (study B), varying in growth stage (flowering, fruiting). We found no difference between the Czech fruiting and flowering plants and a stronger aesthetic response to African flowering plants. A third study (n = 817) confirmed that flowers were preferred to fruits, using a forced-choice paradigm. Our results suggest that the theory cannot fully explain human aesthetic responses to flowers. We discuss alternative explanations. This topic deserves renewed attention from researchers working in related fields.