Psyc-ho-ho-ho-logy

From you taste in decorations to how happy you are with your presents, psychology researchers have studied every aspect of the season. So, what does your attitude to Christmas say about you?

 

  1. Deck the Halls?

Are you a minimalist or a maximalist when it comes to Christmas decorations? How far do you go when it comes to decorating the outside of your house, and what does your taste say about your personality?

 

(a)    What outdoor decorations?

(b)    I put a wreath on the door – does that count?

(c)    I have a few lights and/or an outdoor tree

(d)    Blackpool illuminations is my ideal

 

If you said (b) or (c), then your neighbours probably perceive you as friendly, and showing a decent community spirit; if you said (a), less so. But there’s a twist: If you really went to town (d), then you may well enjoy fewer social interactions with your neighbours than those who keep the decorations more tasteful. These were the findings of a classic 1989 study conducted at the University of Utah when volunteers were shown photographs of strangers’ homes taken in the festive season, and then asked to rate their owners’ “friendliness” and “cohesiveness with their neighbours.” When the residents themselves were interviewed, the findings were the same: The decorators reported more social contact with their neighbours than did the non-decorators, while residents who really went to town (the “d”s) reported less social interaction with their neighbours than those who kept things subtle.

 

  1. Gold, Frankincense and…er, do you have a receipt for that?

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the unwanted gifts: the itchy jumpers, the bubble bath, the comedy socks… But how happy are you generally with your presents. Thinking back to last year…

 

  1. a) What would you estimate as the total cash value of gifts you received?
  2. b) How much would you have sold them to me for on Boxing Day?

 

If your answer was higher for (b) than (a), then you’re a sentimentalist. If your answer was lower for (b) than (a), or about the same, then you’re a cold, hard economic realist. A classic study, in which participants were invited to sell their gifts to the experimenters, found that, on average, people demanded 25% above their cash value before they would part with them, with the extra premium representing the gifts’ sentimental value. So, don’t worry too much about finding the perfect gift – it really is the thought that counts.

 

  1. We all want some figgy pudding.

Here’s one to try out on the kids. Ask them to write down the first five words that come into your head when you say “Christmas” (feel free to do this yourself if you don’t have a child handy, the same principle applies).

 

1……

2…….

3……

4……

5……

 

Now, how many of those were food related?

 

  1. a)    0-1
  2. b)    2-3
  3. c)    4-5

 

This test measures the strength of your association between Christmas and food: (a) weaker than average, (b) about average, (c) stronger than average. Again, though, there’s a twist: the stronger this link (i.e., the more food-related items you listed), the less likely you are to be overweight or obese. This was the counterintuitive finding that emerged this year when this study was run under test conditions in Germany. The reason is that, for overweight children, chocolate, cakes and stodgy dinners are a daily occurrence, rather than something associated particularly with Christmas. But if you have a tendency to get stuck in during the festive season, don’t feel too bad: While, most people overestimate the average Christmas weight gain as 2kg (almost  4½ lbs), it is actually only around a quarter of this.

 

  1. A Merry Christmas?

Be honest. Is it all about the presents? The booze? Or reuniting with family and friends? Whatever you look forward to most will define your happiness levels this Christmas.

Please rank the following activities in terms of importance to you.

 

(a) Seeing family, (b) Religious activities, (c) Buying presents, (d) Getting presents, (e) Drinking.

 

If buying and getting presents ranked highly on your list, you probably find Christmas relatively unsatisfying, and maybe even a bit annoying. If family and religion were your top activities, you probably find it satisfying and enjoyable. If you put drinking at the top of the tree, then you probably experience less stress (perhaps because you’re too comatose to notice the inevitable family arguments). These were the findings of a 2002 survey published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, which also found that older people, and those who tried to have an environmentally conscious Christmas also reported more enjoyment of the season.

 

  1. Dreaming of a White Christmas?

Finally…close your eyes and put your fingers in your ears. Can you hear White Christmas playing?

 

  1. a) Of course not, no.
  2. b) Now you come to mention it, it’s very faint, but I can just about make it out.

 

If you said (b), this may suggest that you’re more prone than average to fantasy and even hallucinations. In a 2001 experiment conducted at Maastricht University, students were played white noise and asked to press a button when they heard Bing Crosby’s classic cutting through the static. Although the song was never played, almost a third pressed the button at least once; these participants scored higher on questionnaire measures of hallucination and, particularly, fantasy. And on that tuneful note, let me end by wishing you – whether you’re decking the halls, gorging out on figgy pudding, or dreaming of a white Christmas – the happiest of holidays.

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