Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Secret Santa? Be a devil!

Santa WorkshopIf you’re involved in a workplace xmas party you will be familiar with the Secret Santa approach to giving presents.

You might however want to adda bit of devilment to the proceedings by using a variation called Dirty Santa or Devil’s Santa.

In this alternative you provide the gifts in a way that doesn’t give away who the gift is from and which are suitable for anyone in the group (rather than drawing someone’s name as in the traditional Secret Santa).

The first person chosen at random takes a gift and opens it. Then comes the twist!

The people who follow can either keep the gift they have chosen or steal a previously opened one instead!

If you think this goes against the spirit of christmas there is s a long tradition in Germany and surrounding countries of a bad Santa called Krampus, the Christmas devil who accompanied Santa Claus and whipped children into being nice.


Hey Big Xmas Spender – just don’t get stressed

Xmas is a stressful time of year not least because of what we spend, or feel we have to spend, on presents.

Times are hard and some families will limit gifts to close family or children.

Of course that doesn’t help if there is a tradition at work of buying colleagues gifts, although a Secret Santa with an agreed maximum spend is one way of limiting expenditure.

Several years ago Rosie Kinchen in the Sunday Times wrote about researchers who were trying to better understand shopping behaviours. A neuro-economist at New York University was using marshmallow type experiments about delayed gratification whilst using functional MRI machines to measure brain activity.

His results showed that different parts of the brain are active for those people who can’t wait compared with those who can.

So some people have “spender” brains and others don’t.

Does that mean you can’t do anything to curb your reckless spending?

Well, other researchers have focused on the part of the brain that deals with less likeable things and found that this could be activated in some people by seeing expensive price tags, or in one case seeing a hefty credit card bill.

On a similar theme some banks that will text you as you approach your credit limit but a psychologist at Hertfordshire University has come up with a different approach.

Karen Pine believes we take our emotional and impulsive brain with us when we go shopping rather than our rational brain. So she has devised a formula for you to calculate how much to spend on a person.

Basically you have to decide how much you have to spend divided by the number of people you have to buy presents for. This is then adjusted by your financial situation and by how close that person is to you.

The closeness adjustment has four categories: multiply the average by 1.5 for someone really close or by 1.2 if they are quite close. If you are buying from a sense of obligation divide the average by 4 or if you are not sure by 2.

Interesting idea as long as the recipient doesn’t know which category they come into and it still relies on self-discipline.


This is an revised versions of an earlier post by Mike the Psych