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I'm familiar with some research into the subject of gift giving, for example Dan Ariely suggests that giving cash is less effective than buying somebody something. Other studies show that money spent on others makes you more happy than money spent on yourself.
Does anybody know of a study regarding the problem of whether its best to give one single large gift or split the gift into several smaller ones?
Step 3 Quiz
A. Questionnaires must include questions confirming that participants meet the eligibility criteria for the study.
B. Questionnaires must be able to place study participants into key categories.
*C. Questionnaires should not include questions about factors influencing the relationship between exposures and outcomes.
A. Entire data sets might be immediately available to download from an agency's website
*B. If a screening process is in place, researchers will need to submit a request form to use the data
C. Publicly available data set files are always available for free
B. Non-random sampling bias
A. Discuss the risks and benefits of the study
*B. Explain how study participants' information will be distributed to the public
C. Disclose potential conflicts of interest
A. Analysts are limited to exploring only the topics included in the original survey
*B. Analysts will always be able find someone who can answer questions about the procedures used for data collection during the research process
C. Analysts have to trust that the data were collected using valid and standardized methods
*A. The primary investigator
B. The investigator in charge
A. Large samples are usually better than small ones.
B. The confidence interval will be narrower when the sample size is large.
(C. In large sample sizes, the mean is expected to be closer to the mean of the total population.)
*A. Institutional review meetings
(B. Institutional review boards)
*A. Categorical variables must be have at least four answer options
B. Categorical variables can be ranked
C. Categorical variables can be unordered
A. Develop a questionnaire and other data collection tools
*B. Screen abstracts and full-length articles for eligibility
(C. Prepare an application for a research ethics review committee)
*C. Informed consent statements
B. Individuals with severe mental health disorders
*B. New data collected by the researcher conducting the study
C. Governmental organizations
A. Access to a private data set is most likely to be granted if the new researcher has some connection to the original researcher
B. When privately held data are shared with a new investigator, the original researchers usually expect to be coauthors on any resulting publication
C. Individual researchers or small research teams may have data available that have not yet been analyzed and therefore could be acquired by a new researcher
A. Allows for collection of data from large number of participants at one time
*B. Eliminates the need for later data entry
(C. Allows for the easy collection of signatures on informed consent statements)
A. Current versions of the study protocol, informed consent, questionnaire and other study documents
Feeling Down? Scientists Say Cooking and Baking Could Help You Feel Better
Cooking or baking has become a common cure for stress or feeling down, but there might actually be some science to why small creative tasks might make people feel better. According to a new study, a little creativity each day can go a long way towards happiness and satisfaction in the bustle of daily life.
The study, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, suggests that people who frequently take a turn at small, creative projects report feeling more relaxed and happier in their everyday lives. The researchers followed 658 people for about two weeks, and found that doing small, everyday things like cooking and baking made the group feel more enthusiastic about their pursuits the next day, Daisy Meager reports for Munchies.
“There is growing recognition in psychology research that creativity is associated with emotional functioning,” Tamlin Conner, a psychologist with the University of Otago in New Zealand and lead author on the study tells Tom Ough for The Telegraph. “However, most of this work focuses on how emotions benefit or hamper creativity, not whether creativity benefits or hampers emotional well-being.”
By following detailed diaries kept by the study subjects, Connor found that in addition to feeling happier, people who worked on little creative projects every day also felt they were “flourishing”—a psychological term that describes the feeling of personal growth. That could mean that the good feeling that comes with pulling a freshly-baked loaf of bread out of the oven could carry over into the next day, making that baker more likely to keep on with their little acts of creative cooking, Ough writes.
This isn’t the first time researchers have drawn a line connecting making food with positive feelings. In recent years, psychologists have started spending more time exploring cooking and baking as a therapeutic tool to help people dealing with things like depression and anxiety, Meager reports.
"When I'm in the kitchen, measuring the amount of sugar, flour or butter I need for a recipe or cracking the exact number of eggs—I am in control,” baker John Whaite, who won "The Great British Bake Off" in 2012, told Farhana Dawood for the BBC. “That's really important as a key element of my condition is a feeling of no control."
For people like Whaite, who was diagnosed with manic depression in 2005, baking can help their mood by providing small tasks to focus on in a manner similar to meditation. In order to put together a good meal, cooks have to be constantly in the moment, adding ingredients, adjusting the heat of the stove and tasting their food to make sure everything will come out alright—all of which can be helpful techniques in treating some forms of mental illness, wrote Huma Qureshi for The Guardian in 2013.
“A lot of us turn to baking when we're feeling low,” Melanie Denyer, the founder of the Depressed Cake Shop, a bakery designed to draw awareness to mental health conditions, tells Dawood. “Some of us even started baking because they were ill and needed something simple as a focus. And there is genuinely something very therapeutic about baking.”
Baking may not be a be-all-end-all cure for mental illness, but anyone in need of lifted spirits should consider pulling out the flour and warming up the oven.
About Danny Lewis
Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.
Love Languages and the Psychology Behind It
Ever wondered why some relationships just don’t seem to work out? Maybe you’re one of those people who has had relationships that seemed great at first but as time goes by, the spark and the feelings little by little faded away? Ever wondered why there are people who have been together for a long time and still the spark is still there?
According to Dr Gary Chapman, relationships grow better when we understand each other. Lasting relationships take intentional commitment over time however it is much harder or even impossible if we don’t understand each other.
That’s why he authored a book called, The Five Love Languages . According to Dr Chapman, every person has a different love languages, or a person’s way of giving and receiving love. These are: words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, and giving/receiving gifts.
The psychology of stuff and things
Stuff everywhere. Bags, books, clothes, cars, toys, jewellery, furniture, iPads. If we’re relatively affluent, we’ll consider a lot of it ours. More than mere tools, luxuries or junk, our possessions become extensions of the self. We use them to signal to ourselves, and others, who we want to be and where we want to belong. And long after we’re gone, they become our legacy. Some might even say our essence lives on in what once we made or owned.
Childhood and adolescence
Our relationship with stuff starts early. The idea that we can own something, possess it as if a part of ourselves, is one that children grasp by the age of two. And by six, they exhibit the ‘endowment effect’, placing extra value on an object simply by virtue of it being, or having been, theirs. Although children understand ownership from a very young age, they think about it in a more simplistic way than adults. A study by Ori Friedman and Karen Neary in 2008 showed that aged between two and four, kids make the assumption that whoever is first in possession of the object is the owner, regardless of whether they later give it away.
With ownership comes envy. When youngsters play with friends, they soon discover other people’s toys they’d like to get their hands on. Or they experience the injustice of being forced to share what they had assumed was theirs alone. In his 1932 book The Moral Judgment of the Child, Jean Piaget observed that even babies express jealousy over objects, giving signs of ‘violent rage’ when a toy is taken from them and given to another. When Batya Licht and her colleagues in 2008 filmed 22-month-olds playing with their peers in day-care, nearly a quarter of all sources of conflict were over possessions – where the ‘child either defended his or her objects from another child, or wanted to take an object from another child’.
Most children have an unusually intense relationship with a specific ‘attachment object’, usually a favourite blanket or a soft toy. In an intriguing study by Bruce Hood and Paul Bloom, the majority of three- to six-year-old children preferred to take home their original attachment object, as opposed to a duplicate made by a ‘copying machine’. To the prospect of taking a copy, ‘the most common response was horror,’ says Nathalia Gjersoe, who helped run the studies. ‘A few very sweet and obedient children said okay but then burst into tears.’ Four of the children even refused for their attachment toy or object to be copied in the first place. That’s despite the fact they were happy enough to take a copy of an experimenter’s toy. It’s as if the children believed their special object had a unique essence, a form of magical thinking that re-appears in adulthood in our treatment of heirlooms, celebrity memorabilia and artwork.
Some experts refer to children’s attachment objects as ‘transitional objects’ because it is believed they aid the transition to independence. Consistent with this, there’s evidence that children make less use of such objects if their mothers practise so-called ‘attachment parenting’, involving co-sleeping and feeding on cue (Green et al., 2004). There are also cross-cultural findings showing that fewer children have attachment objects in Tokyo, where children more often sleep in the same bed or bedroom with their parents, than in New York, where co-sleeping is less common (Hobara, 2003).
As children mature into teens, we see possessions starting to act as a crutch for the self. In 2007, Lan Chaplin and her colleagues interviewed participants aged between eight and 18 and found that ‘materialism’ (identified by choosing material goods in answer to ‘What makes me happy?’) peaked at middle adolescence, just when self-esteem tended to be lowest. In a follow-up, materialism was reduced in teens who were given flattering feedback from peers to boost their self-esteem. ‘Giving children or adolescents a sense of self-worth and accomplishment seems to be quite an effective antidote to the development of materialism,’ the researchers said (see box ‘Is materialism all bad?’).
Through adolescence, possessions increasingly reflect who people are, or at least how they would like to see themselves. In his seminal paper ‘Possessions and the extended self’ Russell Belk quotes from novelist Alison Lurie’s book The Language of Clothes, in which she observes: ‘…when adolescent girls exchange clothing they share not only friendship, but also identities – they become soulmates.’ Similarly, in interviews with teens, Ruthie Segev at Jerusalem College of Technology found evidence that selecting and buying gifts for their friends helps adolescents achieve a sense of identity independent from their parents, and that the mutual exchange of the same or similar gifts between friends helps them to create a feeling of overlapping identities.
In the transition from adolescence to adulthood, it’s the first car that often becomes the ultimate symbol of a person’s emerging identity. Interviews with car owners conducted by Graham Fraine and colleagues in 2007 found that young drivers, aged 18 to 25, were particularly likely to make the effort to personalise their cars with stickers, unusual number plates and seat covers, as if marking out their territory. Earlier research conducted in the 1980s made the complementary finding that the more young men saw their cars as extensions of themselves, the more trouble they took to wash, wax and care for them (Bloch, 1982).
As our lives unfold, our things embody our sense of self-hood and identity still further, becoming external receptacles for our memories, relationships and travels. ‘My house is not “just a thing,”’ wrote Karen Lollar in 2010. ‘The house is not merely a possession or a structure of unfeeling walls. It is an extension of my physical body and my sense of self that reflects who I was, am, and want to be.’
How much we see our things as an extension of ourselves may depend in part in how confident we feel about who we are. When Kimberly Morrison and Camille Johnson led European Americans to feel uncertain about themselves using false feedback on a personality questionnaire (telling them: ‘the consistency of your responses is not high enough to construct a clear picture of who you are’), they responded by rating their belongings as particularly self-expressive – as saying something about who they are. The same result didn’t apply to Asian Americans or other US participants with a collectivist mentality, perhaps because they are less concerned by threats to their sense of self.
In a follow-up, those participants scoring highly in individualism (as opposed to collectivism), who wrote about an object that reflected their self-concept, subsequently scored particularly high on a measure of self-certainty. It’s as if reflecting on our things restores a fragile ego. The results could help explain some of the behaviour we associate with a mid-life crisis, such as when the angst-ridden fifty-something finds solace in a new Porsche. A related line of research by Derek Rucker and Adam Galinsky at the Kellogg School of Management showed that participants who felt powerless (induced by recalling a time when someone had control over them) were more willing to pay for a silk tie and other high-status products.
From a neural perspective, this absorption of objects into self-identity may be more than mere metaphor. In 2010, Kyungmi Kim and Marcia Johnson scanned participants’ brains as they allocated objects to a container marked as ‘mine’, imagining that they were going to own them, or to a container marked with someone else’s name. Extra activity was observed in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPC) in response to the sight of ‘owned’ items, compared with control items allocated to others. The same area of MPC was activated when participants rated how much various adjectives described their own personality. ‘Areas of the brain that are known to be involved in thinking about the self also appear to be involved when we create associations between external things and ourselves through ownership,’ says Kim.
As well as shoring up our sense of identity, our possessions also allow us to signal something about ourselves to other people. In a romantic context, there’s evidence for men using the purchase of showy items – known as ‘conspicuous consumption’ – as a display of status and availability to women. A study led by Jill Sundie showed this was specifically the case for men interested in casual liaisons, and moreover, that women interested in casual sex were attracted to these overt displays of costly consumption.
Conspicuous consumption can also convey status and importance outside of romantic contexts. A study at Tilburg University showed that people wearing a luxury branded shirt (Tommy Hilfiger or Lacoste) were perceived as wealthier and higher status (than people wearing a non-branded or non-luxury shirt) more successful at getting passers-by to complete a questionnaire more likely to be given a job and more successful at soliciting money for a charity (Nelissen & Meijers, 2011). Crucially, these effects were only present when it was clear than the wearer of the luxury shirt actually owned that shirt. ‘Insofar as luxury displays advertise nothing but wealth or possession in general, the ensuing benefits, particularly financial ones, can … be considered perverse,’ the researchers said.
Like a uniform, our possession of specific objects and brands can also signal our membership of social groups, both to others and to ourselves. The success of the Apple brand has been attributed in part to people’s desire to show that they belong to a consumer tribe with connotations of ‘coolness’. Increasingly it seems people will do whatever it takes, be that queuing for hours or paying premium prices, in demonstration of their brand loyalty and membership. ‘Consumer culture theorists definitely find a strengthening of the phenomenon,’ says Robert Kozinets (York University, Toronto), co-editor of Consumer Tribes. ‘They tend to posit, with psychologists like Philip Cushman and sociologists like Robert Putnam, that as people find less satisfaction and community in traditional sources like family, country and religion, they turn instead to alternate sources in the marketplace.’
The use of possessions to convey group membership is most obvious when it comes to sports fans. Christian Derbaix and Alain Decrop explored this in interviews with 30 fans from major football teams across Belgium, France and Spain, some of whom owned dozens of items of club paraphernalia. The fans described how important the wearing of their team colours was to their identity, as a way to gain acceptance from other fans, and to their feeling part of the community. ‘Believe me’, said an RC Lens fan, ‘when I say that the one who doesn’t have his/her scarf looks a little bit silly . [B]randishing the scarf means “I exhibit my club and raise it to the top… I’m just honouring it”. For me, the scarf means everything!’
Loss and disposal
As our belongings accumulate, becoming more infused with our identities, so their preciousness increases. People whose things are destroyed in a disaster are traumatised, almost as if grieving the loss of their identities. Photographs from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the US East coast last year, show people standing bereft, staring in shock and bewilderment at all they’ve lost. Reflecting on the fire that took her home, Lollar says it was like ‘a form of death’. Alexandra Kovach, who also lost her home in a fire, wrote in The Washington Post in 2007: ‘It isn’t just a house. It’s not the contents, or the walls, but the true feeling of that home – and all that it represents. Our homes are our foundations, retaining in their walls our memories and all the experiences that happen within them.’ Victims of burglaries and vandalism report feeling violated, the psychological impact of loss greater than the financial burden.
Yet there are many times when people wilfully dispose of things. This often happens at a key juncture, such as when leaving student life behind, moving home, or during divorce, and can be experienced as a chance for a new start. Old belongings are shed like a carapace, fostering the emergence of a new identity. In the film Fight Club, the troubled character Tyler Durden sees the conflagration of his flat as liberating. ‘It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything,’ he says.
Another time for a symbolic clear-out occurs when parents throw out the baby clothes and toys belonging to their children. Based on in-depth interviews with 13 mothers, Barbara Phillips and Trina Sego distinguished between ‘keepers’ and ‘discarders’ (preferring these terms to the labels ‘packrat’, ‘hoarder’ and ‘purger’ that others have used). Keepers struggled to dispose of their children’s belongings because of their emotional meaning, and they often employed delaying tactics to keep things as long as possible (see ‘Hoarding’). Discarders, by contrast, felt weaker ties to their children’s things. Intriguingly, both groups experienced guilt around their decisions – keepers because they felt a cultural pressure to be organised, and discarders because they felt there was an expectation for mothers to protect and preserve their children’s identities.
Later life and beyond
Older people don’t just form bonds with their specific belongings, they seem to have an affection for brands from their youth too. Usually this manifests in a taste for music, books, films and other entertainment from yesteryear, but the same has been shown for fashions and hairstyles, it has been hinted at for perfumes, and in a study published in 2003 by Robert Schindler and Morris Holbrook, it was found that it also extends to the car.
Dozens of participants aged 16 to 92 rated their preference for the appearance of 80 cars, ranging from the 1915 Dodge Model 30-35 to the 1994 Chrysler Concorde. Among men, but not women, there was a clear preference for cars that dated from the participants’ youth (peaking around age 26). This was particularly the case for men who were more nostalgic and who believed that things were better in the old days. What other examples might there be? ‘Children of both sexes tend to have strong feelings about foods they like as they grow up,’ says Schindler. ‘Although we haven’t studied food, I would expect both men and women to have a lifetime fondness for foods they enjoyed during their youth.’
As with human relationships, the attachments to our things deepen with the passage of time. Elderly people are often surrounded by possessions that have followed them through good times and bad, across continents and back. In 2000, Linda Price at the University of Arizona and her colleagues interviewed 80 older people about their decisions regarding these ‘special possessions’.
A common theme was the way cherished objects come to represent particular memories. ‘I can look at anything [in this house] and remember special occasions,’ recalled Diane, aged 70. ‘It’s almost like
a history of our life.’
These possessions can be a particular comfort for older people who have to leave their homes and enter supervised residential care. In interviews with 20 such people in New Zealand, Jane Kroger and Vivienne Adair reported that cherished possessions often provided a vital link to memories, relationships and former selves, helping foster a sense of continuity. ‘I love having this plate to keep me company,’ one woman, aged 86, said of a ceramic plate that reminded her of her mother.
After a person dies, many of their most meaningful possessions become family heirlooms, seen by those left behind as for ever containing the lost person’s essence. This idea is also seen in the behaviours that follow the death of a celebrity. In a process that Belk calls ‘sacralisation’, possessions owned by a deceased star can acquire astonishing value overnight, both sentimental and monetary. This is often true even for exceedingly mundane items such as President Kennedy’s tape measure, auctioned for $48,875 in 1996. A study by George Newman and colleagues in 2011 provided a clue about the beliefs underlying these effects. They showed that people place more value on celebrity-owned items, the more physical contact the celebrity had with the object, as if their essence somehow contaminated the item through use. A related phenomenon is seen in consumer behaviour after a creative star dies, with the mass consumption of their music, books or films or other associated items. Consider how Steve Jobs death in 2011 was followed by mass demand for tops in
his trademark black turtle-neck style.
Our relationship with our stuff is in the midst of great change. Dusty music and literary collections are being rehoused in the digital cloud. Where once we expressed our identity through fashion preferences and props, today we can cultivate an online identity with a carefully constructed homepage. We no longer have to purchase an item to associate ourselves with it, we can simply tell the world via Twitter or Facebook about our preferences. The self has become extended, almost literally, into technology, with Google acting like a memory prosthetic. In short, our relationship with our things, possessions and brands remains as important as ever, it’s just the nature of the relationship is changing.
Researchers and people in general are gradually adjusting. The psychology of our stuff is becoming more inter-disciplinary, with new generations building on the established research conducted by consumer psychologists. For her thesis completed this year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Amber Cushing – an information scientist – interviewed people aged 18 to 67, finding that the younger participants readily saw their digital possessions as extensions of themselves, much as older generations see their physical things.
Twenty-five years after he published his seminal work on objects and the ‘extended self’, Russell Belk has composed an update: ‘The extended self in a digital world,’ currently under review. ‘The possibilities for self extensions have never been so extensive,’ he says.
Box - Is materialism all bad?
The prevailing view in psychology is that materialism is bad for our well-being. Research by Tim Kasser (at Knox College) and others has revealed an association between holding materialist values and being more depressed and selfish, and having poorer relationships. Kasser has previously called for a revolution in Western culture, shifting us from a thing-centred to a person-centred society. Other research by Leaf Van Boven, Thomas Gilovich and colleagues has shown that the purchase of experiences leaves people happier than buying material products. In another study of theirs, materialistic people were liked less than people who appeared more interested in experiences.
How can we square this literature with the idea of things being part of our ‘extended selves’, a vital receptacle for our memories and identities? A clue comes from the theorising of a group led by L.J. Shrum at the University of Texas at San Antonio. They propose that materialism isn’t bad per se, it depends on people’s buying motives. To the extent that acquisitions are motivated by intrinsic goals such as affiliation, belonging, pride and self-reward, they predict that materialism will improve well-being. Even when it comes to signalling identity to others, they predict no adverse effects of materialism if the signal is true to the self.
‘We are not suggesting that materialism has no detrimental effects,’ says Shrum. ‘We are just arguing that it should not be considered wholly detrimental apriori, or by definition, but dependent on the underlying motives.’ He and others are planning research to test these ideas but there’s already some evidence they might be on to something. The 1998 paper ‘The American dream revisited: Is it what you want or why you want it that matters?’ showed that financial and material aspirations were linked to positive well-being when the motives underlying those aspirations were ‘self-determining’, for example based on the desire for fun or freedom (see also Srivastava et al., 2001).
Box - Hoarding
There are people so reluctant to dispose of their belongings that it becomes a serious problem. In extreme cases, mountains of clutter accumulate posing a fire hazard and making free movement around the home impossible. In 2011 Channel 4 told the story of Richard Wallace, an extreme hoarder who had accumulated 60 tonnes of rubbish in his garden and whose kitchen was only accessible by crawling on all fours through a narrow tunnel of junk. Awareness of problematic hoarding is growing and ‘Hoarding Disorder’ will be included as a new condition in the next edition of US psychiatry’s diagnostic code, DSM-5, due for publication this year.
Part of the problem with making such a diagnosis is distinguishing hoarding from benign collecting. A British study published in 2012 compared a group of 29 people who met the proposed diagnostic criteria for hoarding disorder with 20 collectors (Nordsletten et al., 2012). Although both groups shared a reluctance to dispose of their belongings, the hoarders were less discriminate, more impulsive, and more extreme in their accumulations, all of which caused them problems with work and relationships. Hoarders were also more likely to have one or more other psychiatric diagnoses and to be taking psychiatric medication. Previous research suggests that hoarding behaviour is associated with a distinct way of thinking about possessions, including wanting to sustain control over them and feeling an exaggerated sense of responsibility for them (Steketee et al., 2003)
Dr Christian Jarrett is The Psychologist’s staff journalist. [email protected]
Universities that Facilitate Paid Focus Groups
You can also find paid focus groups at colleges and universities. Many of them offer year-round opportunities and focus on psychology and human behavior. While most of these studies are performed online, a few require that you participate in person.
You don’t have to be a student to participate, and payment is typically in the form of PayPal cash, gift cards, or a check. If you’d like to earn money via college-run focus groups, take a look at the schools near your home. Their websites will likely include details about these types of opportunities.
- Purdue University (See studies)
- Center for Decision Sciences Columbia Business School (See studies)
- Northwestern University Department of Psychology (See studies)
- Harvard University Psychology Study Pool (See studies)
- MIT Behavioral Research Lab (See studies)
DollarSprout co-founder Jeff Proctor participated in a six-week research study on high-fat diets at Virginia Tech. During the study, he was compensated with meals and $500.
“It was a great experience but very involved,” he said. “I had to check in every day to get weighed, choose my meals, and get several blood and urine samples taken.”
Some Consumers Do Not Act Rationally
Consumers don’t behave rationally all of the time. A perfectly rational person would always act in accordance with reason or logic in other words, a perfectly rational person would always act in their own best interest (including in their own best financial interest).
However, numerous modern behavioral psychology studies have revealed that humans don't always act rationally. And many consumers who buy luxury goods are not in a financial position to be able to afford luxury goods. The proof of this may be in the high rates of consumer debt that many Americans have. Depending on how you look at it, this phenomenon may be evidence that many Americans don’t always act in their best financial interest.
While a high-quality, durable handbag can be purchased for around $100, some people opt instead to spend thousands of dollars on a luxury-brand handbag that performs the same function and is of the same relative quality.
Overview of the Present Research
The goal of the present research is to broaden our understanding of the factors that shape the music preferences of ordinary music listeners, as opposed to trained musicians. Past work on individual differences in music preferences focused on genres, but genres are limited in several ways that ultimately hinder theoretical progress in this area. This research was intended to rectify those problems by developing a more nuanced assessment of music preferences. Previous work suggests that audio excerpts of authentic music would aid the development of such an assessment. Thus, the objective of the present research was to investigate the structure of affective reactions to audio excerpts of music, with the aim of identifying a robust factor structure.
Using multiple pieces of music, methods, samples, and recruitment strategies, four studies were conducted to achieve that objective. In Study 1, we assessed preferences for audio excerpts of commercially released, but not well-known music in a sample of Internet users. To assess the stability of the results, a follow-up study was conducted using a subsample of participants. Study 2 also used Internet methods, but unlike Study 1, preferences were assessed for pieces of music that had never been released to the public, and to which we purchased the copyright. In Study 3 we examined music preferences among a sample of university students using a subset of the pieces of music from Study 2. In Study 4 the pieces of music from the previous studies were coded on several musical attributes and analyzed in order to examine the intrinsic properties and external associations that influence the structure of music preferences.
The Complicated Psychology of Revenge
A few years ago a group of Swiss researchers scanned the brains of people who had been wronged during an economic exchange game. These people had trusted their partners to split a pot of money with them, only to find that the partners had chosen to keep the loot for themselves. The researchers then gave the people a chance to punish their greedy partners, and for a full minute, as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brains was recorded. The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use). The findings, published in a 2004 issue of Science, gave physiological confirmation to what the scorned have been saying for years: Revenge is sweet.
A thirst for vengeance is nothing if not timeless. It is as classic as Homer and Hamlet, and as contemporary as Don Corleone and Quentin Tarantino as old as the eyes and teeth traded in the Bible, and as fresh as the raid that took the life of Osama bin Laden. But while the idea of revenge is no doubt delectable — the very phrase “just desserts” promises a treat — much of its sugar is confined to the coating. The actual execution of revenge carries a bitter cost of time, emotional and physical energy, and even lives. That minute before revenge is savory, as the authors of the Science study recognized but what about the days and weeks that follow?
In the past few years, psychological scientists have discovered many ways in which the practice of revenge fails to fulfill its sweet expectations. Behavioral scientists have observed that instead of quenching hostility, revenge can prolong the unpleasantness of the original offense and that merely bringing harm upon an offender is not enough to satisfy a person’s vengeful spirit. They have also found that instead of delivering justice, revenge often creates only a cycle of retaliation, in part because one person’s moral equilibrium rarely aligns with another’s. The upshot of these insights is a better sense of why the pursuit of revenge has persisted through the ages, despite tasting a lot more sour than advertised.
Keeping Wounds Green
Many early psychological views toward revenge were based on the larger concept of emotional catharsis. This idea, still widely held in the popular culture, suggests that venting aggression ultimately purges it from the body. But empirical research failed to validate the theory of catharsis, and some recent work contradicts it entirely. In a 2002 paper in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, APS Fellow Brad Bushman of The Ohio State University reported higher levels of aggression in people who had supposedly vented their anger than in those who had done nothing at all.
If cathartic activity fails to dissolve hostility in general, what is to say revenge will dissolve the anger caused by one offense in particular? That doubt laid the foundation for a recent series of tests led by Kevin Carlsmith of Colgate, who conducted the research with APS Fellows and Charter Members Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard. Wilson and Gilbert have often found that people make powerful mistakes when predicting how they will feel about something in the future with Carlsmith, they asked whether people could be wrong about the expected emotional benefits of revenge as well. Perhaps revenge is sweet, or perhaps the words of Francis Bacon are more accurate: “A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal, and do well.”
For the study, Carlsmith and his collaborators placed participants into groups of four and gave each a dollar, which they could either invest in a group pot or keep for themselves. To entice investment, the researchers promised to add a 40 percent dividend to the group total before redistributing the boosted pot among all four members. This created a classic experimental dilemma: what’s best for the group is for all four members to donate their dollar, but what’s best for the individual is to keep the dollar and also receive one quarter of the final pot distribution, which grows through the investments of the others — in other words, as the researchers put it, to be a “free rider.”
At the end of the trial, participants discovered that one member — secretly controlled by the researchers — had acted as a free rider. Some of the participants, called “non-punishers,” learned about this moral violation but were given no chance to do anything about it. Others, known as “punishers,” were given the chance to avenge the selfish behavior by reducing the earnings of the offender. (The decision to punish carried a small fee, to simulate the personal cost of revenge.) Both punishers and non-punishers rated their feelings immediately after the game, as well as 10 minutes later. A final group, dubbed “forecasters,” had no power to punish but recorded how they expected to feel if they could.
The findings were exactly as Francis Bacon had imagined: Punishers actually felt worse than forecasters predicted they would have felt had they been given the chance to be punishers. Punishers even felt worse than non-punishers, despite getting the chance to take their revenge. Ten minutes after the game, punishers continued to brood on the free rider significantly more than the others did — an “increased rumination” that prevented them from moving on, the researchers surmised. All told, Carlsmith and company concluded in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people erroneously believe revenge will make them feel better and help them gain closure, when in actuality punishers ruminate on their deed and feel worse than those who cannot avenge a wrong.
“I think uncertainty prolongs and enhances emotional experiences, and one of the things that avengers do unintentionally is to prolong the unpleasant encounter,” Carlsmith says. “Those who don’t have a chance to take revenge are forced, in a sense, to move on and focus on something different. And they feel happier.”
Delivering a Message
That most people fail to feel good after revenge does not mean revenge can never feel good. The hunt for this pleasant side of retribution has driven the recent work of German psychological scientist Mario Gollwitzer. “I think that taking revenge has generally a low chance of being successful or satisfying for the avenger,” says Gollwitzer. “I was interested in those instances in which revenge can be ‘sweet,’ and I wondered what it exactly is that makes revenge sweet for the avenger.” In the service of that interest, Gollwitzer has designed some beautifully elaborate experiments after all, he says, it takes “careful calibration” to provoke a strong response from participants while remaining inside the ethical boundaries of institutional review boards. (How much more might we learn about revenge, one can’t help but think, if researchers were allowed to murder a participant’s father and marry the mother?)
Gollwitzer has explored two theories for why revenge could be satisfying. The first is known as “comparative suffering,” the idea that simply seeing an offender suffer restores an emotional balance to the universe. If this were the case, then victims of wrongdoing who learn of an offender’s misfortune should feel equally satisfied whether or not they were personally responsible for that misfortune. The second theory — the “understanding hypothesis” — holds that an offender’s suffering is not enough, on its own, to achieve truly satisfactory revenge. Instead, the avenger must be assured that the offender has made a direct connection between the retaliation and the initial behavior.
In one recent study, Gollwitzer and his collaborators asked participants to solve anagrams and assigned them a partner who was presumably doing the same in another room. Each correctly solved anagram earned the team a raffle ticket for a gift certificate worth €25. At the end of the trial, the researchers asked participants to divide the tickets fairly. Most participants chose an equal split, but the partners — actually research confederates — assigned almost all of the tickets to themselves. When participants were informed of this decision, they were given the chance to reduce their partner’s ticket total. About 60 percent of participants took this chance to the fullest, leaving the partner many fewer tickets than the initial fair distribution had provided. In a practical sense, these participants had taken revenge on the partner’s unjust action.
Other studies might have stopped there, but Gollwitzer took the additional step of giving avengers the chance to send their partner a message. The majority of those who chose to write this retaliatory note made reference to the injustice (“Sorry for taking tickets away, but unfortunately, you only cared about yourself,” one wrote). In response, the avengers then received one of two types of replies prepared by the researchers. Some of these, meant to test the revenge theory of understanding, acknowledged that the retaliation had come as a result of their selfish behavior. Other messages, meant to test “comparative suffering,” showed no such understanding and even expressed a little indignation over their reduced ticket total. To conclude the test, the researchers asked all participants to rate their level of satisfaction with the exchange.
The findings suggest that revenge can succeed only when an offender understands why the act of vengeance has occurred. Among participants who chose to avenge the selfish action, those who received a message of understanding reported much more satisfaction than did those who received an indignant response. In fact, the only time avengers felt more satisfaction than participants who took no revenge at all was when they received an indication of understanding. Put another way, unacknowledged revenge felt no better than none at all. Successful revenge is therefore about more than payback, the authors conclude in the April 2011 issue of the European Journal of Social Psychology it is about delivering a message.
“The finding that it is the offender’s recognizing of his wrongdoing that makes revenge sweet seems to suggest that — from the avenger’s perspective — revenge entails a message,” Gollwitzer says. “If the message is not delivered, it cannot reestablish justice.”
Your Justice or Mine
The reestablishment of universal justice certainly seems to be at the heart of revenge. In early 2001, a research team led by Cheryl Kaiser of Michigan State surveyed people for their belief in a just world by seeing how much they agreed with statements like “I feel that people get what they deserve.” After the September 11 attacks, Kaiser and colleagues returned to these people and assessed their responses to the event. In a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, the researchers reported that the more a person had believed in a just world before the attacks, the more this person experienced distress after them — and the greater this person’s desire for revenge.
The problem with a revenge structure based on rectifying injustice is that the definition of justice varies from person to person — and, even within a single person, from perspective to perspective. A few years ago, a group of researchers led by Arlene Stillwell of the State University of New York at Potsdam asked people to describe two events that had occurred in their lives: one instance in which they had responded to an offense with retribution, and another in which they had been on the receiving end of revenge.
Stillwell and her collaborators found that when people were avengers they believed their action had fairly restored equity to the relationship when they were the recipients of revenge, however, they considered the payback excessive. This shifting viewpoint explains why revenge often occurs in endless cycles no sooner did U.S. Navy Seals avenge September 11 by killing Osama bin Laden, for instance, than Al Qaeda vowed to seek revenge for his death.
“Successful revenge appears to make the avengers feel satisfied that equity has been restored, but in many cases the recipient of revenge will perceive the aftermath of revenge as marked by inequity and negative out comes,” Stillwell and her coauthors conclude in a 2008 issue of Basic and Applied Social Psychology. “The divergent perceptions of avenger and recipient will make it difficult to bring an end to the cycle of revenge in a way that both avenger and recipient will regard as satisfying, positive, and fair.”
The long history of vengeance in art suggests a basic instinct for retribution ingrained in the human spirit. Indeed, recent facts largely confirm this age-old fiction: Revenge has been cited as a factor in one in five murders that occur in developed countries, and a report from 2002 found that between 1974 and 2000 three in five school shootings in the United States were driven by vengeance. At the lighter end of the spectrum, the popular urge for payback has inspired some business ventures. Rahm Emanuel reportedly once hired a company called Enough is Enough to avenge a polling error, and although a recent call to this business found it defunct, a newer outfit, Alibis & Paybacks, currently advertises its services in Los Angeles.
But if revenge tastes so bad to the person, why does it remain a favorite dish of the people? In response to this apparent contradiction, many psychological scientists have embraced an evolutionary explanation of revenge. Michael McCullough and Benjamin Tabak of the University of Miami, along with Robert Kurzban of the University of Pennsylvania, recently prepared a book chapter that outlines payback’s adaptive function. They argue that individual acts of vengeance serve as group announcements that certain behaviors will elicit retaliation. In other words, the purpose of revenge might be less about responding to one particular offense than about preventing several others.
Seen this way, revenge provides a great cultural benefit — leading to more cooperative, and therefore productive, societies — in exchange for its great personal costs. This larger function takes three forms, McCullough and his coauthors argue. The first is through direct deterrence. Simply put, revenge directly discourages an aggressor from subsequently performing the same offense. The second effect of revenge is indirect. By avenging specific actions, a person can establish a general definition of acceptable conduct and, in the process, avoid future confrontation. In this sense, reputation precludes revenge.
The third adaptive function of revenge goes beyond simple deterrence of negative behaviors and actually coerces beneficial ones. To understand this idea, says McCullough, it helps to envision life as an early human. Suppose in that existence you and a neighbor must take turns guarding your camps from jaguar attacks. If you fall asleep one night and the animal kills a neighbor’s child, this negligence, in the eyes of natural selection, is functionally similar to killing the neighbor’s child directly. The threat of revenge in response to such failed cooperation — a concept known as altruistic punishment — would entice you to stay awake (with the expectation, of course, that your neighbor will do the same on his watch).
Pervasive as this revenge instinct may seem, modern civilization can feel fortunate that resisting the urge to retaliate is even more common. The decision to forego vengeance is not necessary born of human kindness on the contrary, the body may have evolved some type of internal scale that weighs the adaptive benefits of revenge against its various costs — from the potential for retaliation to the severance of important relationships. More often than not in today’s world, this scale tips in favor of forgiveness.
“You have to have some way of maintaining relationships, even though it’s inevitable some will harm your interests, given enough time,” says McCullough, who is also the author of Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct (2008). “We think what has evolved is a secondary system” — the forgiveness instinct — “that enables people to suppress the desire for revenge and signal their willingness to continue on, even though someone has harmed their interests, assuming the person will refrain from doing so again in the future.” That might not be the most uplifting interpretation of how the brain governs human relations, but it is at least a relatively peaceful one.
Sharing the Wealth: How Lifetime Gift Tax Exemption Works
When it comes to sharing your wealth, there may be no better time than the present.
“Many times, i t’s better to give money or assets to your loved ones while you’re still around rather than wait until after you pass,” advises Hayden Adams, CPA and director of tax and financial planning at the Schwab Center for Financial Research.
In addition to the emotional lift giving to those you care about brings, giving now can also be a savvy tax move for families with substantial wealth. That’s because both the present value and any potential future growth of the transferred assets are removed from your taxable estate.
It’s important to remember that although the IRS generally doesn’t care when you make a major gift, the timing can make a big difference to your heirs. Giving a smaller amount when your heirs need it and you're still alive can be more meaningful for everyone than waiting to pass on a larger amount after you're gone. What matters is what would work best for your family.
Just make sure you understand all of the rules.
What is the current estate and gift tax exemption?
The IRS allows a lifetime tax exemption on gifts and estates up to a certain limit, which is adjusted yearly to keep pace with inflation.
For 2019, an individual’s combined lifetime exemption from federal gift or estate taxes totals $11.4 million. If married, the joint exemption is $22.8 million. (U.S. citizens also have an unlimited exemption from property they inherit from a spouse.)
You can use all or part of your gift and estate tax exemption during your lifetime. Any portion left over can then be used by your heirs to reduce or eliminate estate taxes that might otherwise be owed. That can be a big deal for your heirs, as the top federal estate tax rate currently stands at 40 %.
“I f the inheritance your heirs receive is subject to the estate tax, your loved ones many not receive all that you had hoped they would,” explains Hayden.
Even if your gifts use up your entire exemption, your loved ones could still come out ahead—they would get your largesse tax-free today and could take advantage of its potential for growth.
However, there are specific giving strategies you can use today that can reduce the size of your taxable estate and leave your gift and estate tax exemption untouched. Here’s how to enjoy giving today and potentially save your family money down the line.
What are some gift tax strategies to reduce the size of your taxable estate?
There is an annual $15,000 gift tax exclusion for assets you give to individuals—also indexed to inflation—separate from the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. By utilizing this gift tax exclusion, not a penny of your gift counts against your $11.4 million lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. And because annual gifts reduce the size of your estate, they reduce the potential tax liability for your heirs.
You’re allowed to individually give that amount to as many people as you like. If married, you and your spouse may each give $15,000 to a particular individual, for a total annual gift of $30,000. For example, a married couple could give $30,000 to an adult child and $30,000 to each of their three grandchildren, for a total of $120,000 each year.
Even though you and your spouse would be combining both $15,000 exclusions, this strategy is called “gift splitting.” And although you won’t owe any additional taxes to the IRS, splitting gifts may still require you to file a gift tax return— Form 709 —for the purpose of documentation.
Making a $15,000 annual gift can also be incredibly easy. Unless you and a spouse are gift splitting, you don’t need to file a gift tax return. Recipients typically owe no tax and aren’t required to file any special tax forms.
What are the rules about giving over the gift tax exclusion?
Let’s consider the following: Suppose you give two grandchildren $20,000 each this year, and you give a family friend $10,000. The gift to the friend doesn’t trigger any gift tax issues, as it’s within the $15,000 annual exclusion. But the gifts to the grandchildren exceed the exempt amount by $5,000 apiece and would require special care.
The amount that overran the $15,000 annual limit would be deducted from your $11.4 million lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. Unless you have already used up all of your lifetime exemption, you won’t actually owe any tax on the gifts to the grandchildren. You will, however, need to let the IRS know that those gifts exceeded the annual limit by filing a gift tax return. In this example, your lifetime gift exemption is reduced by a total of $10,000 ($5,000 for each grandchild).
Which gifts are exempt from federal gift and estate taxes?
In addition to the $15,000 gift-giving strategy, there are other ways you can make gifts that reduce the size of your estate without eating into your lifetime gift and estate tax exclusion.
The IRS gives you a free pass when:
- You pay the medical bills for another individual. 1
- You pay the tuition bills of a student. 2
- You make a charitable contribution to an exempt organization.
There is no annual limit on the size of these gifts. As far as taxes go, it’s as if those weren’t gifts at all.
One important caveat when it comes to medical and tuition bill gifts, however: The money must go directly to the institutions, rather than to the patient or student you’re helping.
How does giving to a 529 plan affect the gift tax?
If you wish to help fund a 529 college savings plan , the $15,000 annual gift limit comes back into play. But in this case, you’re allowed to bundle five years’ worth of $15,000 gift tax exemptions into an initial $75,000 contribution to one student’s 529. Bear in mind that any additional gifts to that individual during the next five years will put you over the annual giving limit, so your lifetime exclusion will be reduced by the additional amounts.
Also, if you die in the five years after you make the gift, a prorated amount of your gift will get tossed back into your estate, but only for tax purposes. The money you gave stays in the 529 account.
Your giving plan, going forward
The bottom line is that giving sooner might make more sense rather than waiting to bequeath your assets after you die. Hayden advises sitting down with a tax and estate professional to consider how a giving strategy fits in with your overall investment plan, and to determine whether it makes sense for you to give now or later.
“For many people gifting over their lifetime can be a great strateg y, so long as they leave themselves enough to live on. With so much at stake, be sure to plan carefully with the help of a professional,” says Hayden.
1 Medical care includes expenses incurred for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting any structure or function of the body, or for transportation primarily for and essential to medical care. Medical care also includes amounts paid for medical insurance on behalf of any individual.
2 Does not include books, supplies, room and board, or other similar expenses that are not direct tuition costs.