- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2011

It’s the one day of the year set aside for matters of the heart, but that hasn’t stopped psychologists, economists, social scientists and even cybersecurity specialists from taking a more intellectual approach to Valentine's Day.

In fact, an academic cottage industry appears to have arisen to study the economic, cultural and even political impacts of a day nominally devoted to love.

Feb. 14 has become a favorite day to take the temperature of the larger economy, with global sugar prices, chocolate sales and lingerie fashion trends all serving as proxies. One survey has found that the deep recession and a still-shaky job market haven’t stopped consumers from purchasing Valentine's Day merchandise for that special someone.

Total spending for the holiday is projected to reach $15.7 billion, a nearly 13 percent increase from 2010, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2011 Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey. In the poll of more than 8,000 consumers 18 and older, 59.8 percent of women and 56.4 percent of men said they planned to celebrate Valentine's Day.

“It seems consumers are not done spending on gifts, which bodes well for the economy,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

According to the NRF, the average American spent $103 on the holiday last year, but the 2011 survey projected per capita spending at $116.21.

While the tab is going up, the purchases remain largely the same - cards and candy.

Of those polled, 52.1 percent said they planned on giving greeting cards as gifts, while 47.5 percent would head for the candy aisles and 34.3 percent to local florists. By the time Cupid has shot his last arrow, the survey projected, consumers will have spent a total of $1.1 billion on cards, $1.5 billion on candy and $1.7 billion on flowers.

On another economic front, early February marks the equivalent of the biggest selling season for drug companies peddling Viagra and other sexual-performance pills. In the week before Valentine's Day last year, more prescriptions were written for Viagra’s little blue pill than any other week of the year, according to figures compiled by the firm Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions.

The worst time for sales: Thanksgiving week, when families tend to travel and gather in large groups.

On a more political angle, the Republican National Committee is looking to score points again this year with Valentine's Day e-cards poking fun at its rivals across the aisle.

This year’s series included an e-card with a picture of the Constitution with the message “Obamacare, I’m all broken up over you,” as well as one featuring Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. that read “Happy Thanksgiving.”

Relationship specialists such as psychologist Diana Kirschner have spent time studying Valentine's Day’s have-nots, the singles and the unwillingly alone who will be bombarded by images of the culture’s ideals about love and togetherness in movies, magazines and offices.

“These cultural forces have created unrealistic expectations for what’s supposed to happen on this day,” Ms. Kirschner said in an interview for the American Psychological Association website. “Couples are portrayed as so much happier than singles.”

Ms. Kirschner suggested that singles get together with friends to throw a party, go out to dinner or attend a play.

“In short, put your attention on the loving friends you do have,” she said. “Have fun and enjoy the love you share with them.”

From Russia with love? Not this year, at least in the western city of Belgorod near the Ukrainian border. The city’s deputy governor, Oleg Polukhin, has attracted widespread attention with a decree that bans public Valentine's Day festivities.

Many people see this holiday as an opportunity to get drunk, said Grigory Bolotnov, an official in the city’s department for relations with social and religious bodies. He told the (London) Times, “We could have just as well introduced a ‘Vodka Day.’ “

Belgorod residents will not be prevented from celebrating Valentine's Day privately.

Iran’s Islamic regime is trying to get out the word that it will not prohibit Valentine's Day celebrations.

Khalid Samad, a member of the Malaysian parliament from the city of Shah Alam, is denying reports about a crackdown on those who observe the holiday. Mr. Khalid said in a Thursday news conference that the information was misunderstood and that the government only was considering plans to prevent immoral activities by Muslim youths and couples.

With hormones, pheromones and dopamine playing such large roles in human attraction, Valentine's Day has not escaped the attention of the world’s chemists.

In a well-timed study, the Chemistry Central Journal offered welcome news this month that the cocoa powder used in dark chocolate may deliver a more beneficial health boost than most fruit juices.

“Cocoa powder and dark chocolate had equivalent or significantly greater [anti-oxidant, total polyphenol and total flavonol] values compared to the other fruit powders and juices tested, respectively,” researchers concluded. “Cacao seeds … appear to meet the popular media’s definition of a ‘Super Fruit.’ “

One thing to note about the study: It was conducted by the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition.

Chocolate may have unexpected upsides, but the social media - where relationship sites are booming - are bringing some hidden dangers linked to Valentine's Day. Cybercriminals are exploiting the scamming opportunities on a day when e-greetings soar but many surfers let down their guards.

Online-security specialists say hackers, spammers, identity thieves and phishers are turning more and more to social networks in the search for prey. One study found that many social network sites face Web-based security challenges but that fewer than a third of social networkers take steps to protect themselves online.

“Most people will automatically open an e-card if it’s from a friend or colleague. To protect yourself from unwanted attention from cyberspace, be very careful what e-cards you open and what you forward on,” said Lloyd Borrett, a “security evangelist” with AVG Ltd. “While receiving an anonymous card from a Valentine can be exciting, opening an anonymous e-mail with ‘I Love You’ in the subject line could be courting disaster.”