Buffer Me

Thursday, January 30, 2020


Keywords: Christmas, Xmas, Black Friday, charity, economics, experimental economics

Ooooh, hello dear English speaking-reading-hearing listener, welcome back to me, @sciencemug, the blog/podcast/twitter&instagram accounts/entity behind the unsuccessful e-shop stuffngo on which can hold its breath for 55 straight hours since it has neither lungs nor cardiovascular system (let alone a brain in need of oxygen), aaand which talks to you thanks to the voice, kidnapped via a voodoo-wireless trick, from a veeery very very dumb human.
Aaand which does all of this in Eng?ish, a language that is to proper English what to publish the second part of a Xmas episode closer to Valentine’s day than to Christmas itself is to something belonging to the realm of the things that make even a pale imitation of sense...

Soo dear listener, in the previous episode I told you the first of two studies (study 1 and study 2) about seasonal effects on people’s propensity to donate to charity and ‘bout its surprising findings: on Christmas time donations are less than on summer time, and this is a trend unexpectedly driven by prosocial individuals (i.e. people with a predisposition to generosity), who donate less frequently and less money during winter Holidays.
The studies are performed by two researchers of the German University of Gottingen, Dr. Stephan Muller and Professor of Experimental Economics Holger A. Rau (aka the Rau's Duo, or the RDs) and are published on a paper (P) on the open access scientific journal PLOSONE.

In this episode, dear listener, I’ll tell you what the RDs do to understand why is that people, especially prosocials, are less generous on Xmas time than on summer, in other words, what are the “[d]rivers of the lower donations (P).

Listen to the podcast episode
on iTunes

So, the Rau’s Duo performs its second study (study 2) the week after the Black Friday, that is in November. The researchers recruit again subjects from the Gottingen University, but none of those already involved in the previous study (study 1) or in other similar studies.

The RDs pick 72 persons (42 females and 30 males) between 18 and 50 years old with an average age of 22 and a half.

The first part of study 2 is identical to study 1 (do you remember dear reader? Semi fake money called Talers that can be donated to the German Red Cross, Social Value Orientation (SVO) evaluation of prosocials, individualistics, competitives, and so on and on (if you don’t remember, dear listener, well, don’t worry, just check the previous post/episode and maybe consider implementing your diet with some phosphorus, but hurry up mate, since world’s irreplaceable reserves of this essential stuff are depleting at an alarming rate (see)).

Anyway, dear listener, of the 72 individuals initially selected for study 2, only 66 are eventually tested (of which fifty are prosocials, and sixteen individualistics). The competitives and the “none of the above” are indeed, as happened in study 1, discharged.

So, dear listener, surprise surprise, the results of this first part of study 2 are basically the same of study 1: meaning those sneaky prosocials are the ones responsible for sinking the donations rate on Xmas season, while individualistics are steady cheap lads both in summer and winter holiday time.

At this point the second phase of study 2 starts. Unlike in study 1,
the Rau’s Duo now makes the subjects take questionnaires that allow to establish these human guinea pigs’ both level of stress and “consumption and saving patterns in the Christmas season(P).

Now, dear listener, why the RDs do that? Well, science says that the more stressed you’re the less empathetic you’re (1), meaning that if you are really strung out you tend to just doon’t really give much of a damn about the others. Aaand the Xmas season is proven to be pretty stressful since the increased emotional stress rate is one of the main probable causes of the “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” (2) that are expressions used to indicate the “increase in deaths starting around Thanksgiving, climbing through Christmas [and] peaking on New Year’s Day” (2).

So, dear listener, in conclusion, at Xmas people are stressed, and the more stressed one is, probably the less is donating to charity. So the RDs check this.

Santa Claus scolding @sciencemug for its laziness  by @sciencemug
Santa Claus by @sciencemug

As per the consumption and savings issues, well, the Rau’s Duo says that another reason of the fall in donations could be the peak of consumption spending around Black Friday (hence the timing of study 2, November). The more people consume, indeed, the less money they have left for donations. Besides stress comes again in question since it is linked to consumption, as “higher consumption activity during Black Friday may in turn amplify subjects’ stress levels(P). This is possibly due to the fact that people enter a stressful “Oh my God oh my God! I must hunt down the best deals around but the time is so little oh my God oh my God!” mode. Plus, the RDs say, many people are really freaked out “by the search for the right presents to meet the needs and the expectations of their family(P), and I’m sure, dear listener, that you too have been there...

Sooo, pal, the RDs, in the second part of study 2, as said, test their subjects for stress, consumption levels and savings (that is about the amount of money they have at disposal in the Xmas season).

The subjects start by self evaluating themselves on the stress thing via two methods.

They begin with a list of thirty statements like “You feel rested”, “You feel frustrated”, “You have many worries(P) and so on. The subjects have to say how often each statement has been true in the previous month, using a 1 to 4 score (1 being “almost never”, 4 being “usually”) (P).

After this part, the subjects are asked a further stress related question with five possible answers. Question: “Since last month, do you perceive a higher level of stress compared to the rest of the year?” (P). Possible answers: from 1 “a much lower level of stress” to 5 “a much higher level of stress(P).

Got it so far dear listener? Good. Let’ proceed, then.

Once done with the stress evaluation, the subjects are then tested about the consumption and savings issue.
Our canny researchers use again self evaluation and questions.
The RDs indeed ask to the subjects the following questions (P):
1) “Since last month, do you save more compared to the rest of the year?”; answers: from 1 “much less” to 5 “much more”.
2) “Have you already started buying Christmas gifts?”; answers: “yes/no”.
3) “How many gifts are you planning to buy for Christmas?”; answer: the exact number.
4) “How many products have you purchased on Black Friday?”; answer: again, the exact number.

Finally, our researchers also investigate, again with simple questions, how often, since the previous month, their subjects have been contacted/stalked by charity solicitors and the frequency of their donations to such solicitors.

Once ended the study on the subjects, the Rau’s Duo analyzes the collected answers and comes to some conclusions.

Curious about these conclusions dear listener? Eheh! Wait after the commercial break!

Are you stressed out 'cause you have no time and yet the imperative mission - penalty the eternal damnation among the cursed flames of the hell of the lousy buyers and bad relatives - to find the perfect gift for your family members that are notoriously picky, very touchy, utterly a pain in the you-know-what when it comes to presents (and food, and who's always calling whom, and who's mom's/dad's favorite, and in general anything family related)?

banned gift (by @sciencemug)
Banned gifts (by @sciencemug)
[Box free pic by Clker-Free-Vector-Images under Pixabay License (source: Pixabay); adapted by @sciencemug]

Call 555-PRESENTSNIGHTMARESOLVED, and we will come to you. We are a secret organization that provides safe houses for distressed people who are living the same dramatic situation of yours.
We are the A-Team of the family shopping war.
We can help you. We can hide you. We will save you.

(And we're not picky at all when it comes to presents...)

Sooo, dear listener, professor Rau and colleague’s study 2 shows this: “[t]he higher prosocials’ reported stress level relative to the rest of the year, the lower their donations(P), in fact the percentage of stressed prosocials that makes a donation on Xmas time is only two thirds of that of relaxed prosocials (16% vs 24.2%).

Now, dear listener, as per the consumption-savings issue, well, the Rau’s Duo finds out that the bigger the stash of money of the prosocials, the less the donations.
More in detail, prosocials with equal or less money than the previous month that make donations on Xmas time are the 22%, while those with more money than the previous month that make a Christmas donation are the 16%.

Moreover our researchers find out that there’s no significant difference in donations level between prosocials who reported to have been contacted more often by fundraising dudes in the winter Holidays season relative to the rest of the year compared to those prosocials who did not report such thing.
Meaning that, rather than to the fact that one is fed up with charity solicitors, the drop in donations are most probably just linked to stress and savings issues.

Sooo, dear listener, to super sum up study 1 and study 2 results, there are less donations to charity during Xmas time than during summer (30% less, to be precise), the difference is made by the prosocials that give less money and less frequently on Christmas than on summer (while individualists have a more constant cheap behavior), and the drop in prosocials generosity is directly linked to their higher stress levels and bigger savings.

Now, pal, I dunno you, but I get the stress thing, as the RDs explain the stress-empathy negative association. But I don't find an obvious reason that explain why, if one is a prosocial, hence more inclined to generosity, and has more money saved, he/she donate less? Our dear researchers don't explain this. So, listener, your guess is as good as mine, well, since I'm a dumb blog, and even brainless, yours's certainly better (I was actually going with sort of a Smeagol-vs-Gollum-syndrome, like "My savingsss...", you know... Oh well, whatever).

Anyway, dear clever listener, at this point you are for sure also thinking that there are some clear limits in the Rau’s Duo's study. And you’re right! Even the RDs themselves are aware of this, and they point them out.

Prosocial vs Christmas (by @sciencemug)
Prosocial vs Christmas (by @sciencemug)
[Dog and cat free pic by creisi under Pixabay License (source: Pixabay); adapted by @sciencemug]

For example, the data focus mainly on students, so mainly on a very specific group of people. Anyway, science has shown that “self-selected students are an appropriate subject pool for the study of social behavior” (3).

Another issue is that the setting of the study is artificial, meaning that people are given the money that they have to decide whether to keep or give to charity, it’s not their own hardly earned money. Moreover the subjects may have enrolled for the experiment with the sole purpose to gain some euros, so for sure they are not willingly giving away anything. Nevertheless, the RDs say “these potential issues are kept constant in the whole lab setting(P), so, all in all, they should not alter the final results.

Another issue is that the social-value orientation (SVO), which determines if one person is prosocial or individualistic, may be not stable for all subjects and some of ‘em may be classified as prosocial in summer and individualistic on Xmas season. But, professor Rau and colleague underline, if there had been “a miss classification in SVO types [they] should observe the same average in donations between the seasons. [And] this is not the case(P).

Finally the questions asked for the self evaluation could lead to “social-desirability” bias. In this case, subjects would answer questions such that it will be viewed favorably by others(P). But, the RDs point out, the nature of the questions exclude this problem, as they are just about “stress and consumption(P).

So, dear listener, the RDs conclude that, all in all, their study, although not final and with more than some weak point, is robust enough to “provide interesting insights for the marketing, the timing, and the design of [charity] campaigns(P).

But you, dear skeptical listener, may wonder: are these insights, and therefore the RDs’ research, really of some use?

Well pal, if you are a charity organization and have to carefully and wisely manage your precious and limited financial resources, meaning money, one of the thing that you for sure want to know is how to optimize the cost/benefit ratio of your charity campaigns.

Thus to know when to launch said campaigns is undoubtedly an essential piece of information you need.

And here’s where the Rau’s Duo’s findings come in handy.

[A]round Christmas[,indeed, there’s a sheer competition] and higher campaign costs caused by higher prices for print and media coverage, or for part-time employees. [Therefore, in light of the RDs’ findings, contrary] to conventional wisdom[,] it might be more profitable to follow a counter-cyclic strategy and concentrate fund-raising activities outside gift-giving seasons. (P)

Finally, our researchers suggest a follow up of their study, so “to compare (donation) field experiments in relaxing environments (parks, spas [donuts testing facilities, free public napping spots and so on]) and stressful places such as train stations [Trash Metal concerts, DMVs premises, IRS offices and so on]" (P).

Well dearest listener, that’s all. Take care, and if you spare some time and feel like doing it, please subscribe and/or rate this podcast, and/or leave a comment on the blog, and/or take a tour on my stuffngo (sNg) e-shop on so you can see if there’s something you like, aaand/or make a donation clicking on the “Donate button on this dumb blog’s home page!


The paper the post is about
P - Müller, S., and Rau, H.A. (2019). Toocold for warm glow? Christmas-season effects in charitable giving. PLOS ONE 14, e0215844.

1- Park, K.H., Kim, D., Kim, S.K., Yi, Y.H., Jeong, J.H., Chae, J., Hwang, J., and Roh, H. (2015). Therelationships between empathy, stress and social support amongmedical students. Int J Med Educ 6, 103–108.
2 – Kloner, R.A. (2004). The“Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack”Phenomenon. Circulation 110, 3744–3745.
3 - Exadaktylos, F., Espín, A.M., and Brañas-Garza, P. (2013). Experimentalsubjects are not different. Sci Rep 3, 1–6.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment dear reader!