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Tactical Christmas presents

Norwegian behavioural biologists at the University of Oslo (UiO) have found that that eldest siblings use more money on each gift than their younger siblings. The research also noted that those born in the middle give the least to the family.

Iver Mysterud is a doctor in human behavioural ecology at UiO and the lead author behind the study that is published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.

He believes that explanation for the first born giving more is that it is easier for them to open themselves to their parents and to their parents’ attitude than it is for younger siblings to do. This is reflected in gift buying.

Different strategies

"In a group of siblings there is competition for parents’ attention. While the oldest of the children will often be more conservative and more similar to their parents, so the next in line must choose another strategy to gain attention and resources. Therefore they are often more rebellious, says Mysterud.

“This supports my theory that birth order is important for the development of personality. It can be noted that among supporters of revolutionary thought throughout history are a large number of younger siblings," he continues.

Generous to your own genes

Mysterud and his colleagues swept up each and every needle under the Christmas tree to find out as much as possible about Norwegians’ gift-giving traditions.

They found, among other things, that people give most to their nearest relatives. In such cases it is not as important how much one receives in return.

This explains the theory of family relationships: The closer one is in the family (genetic relation) with another, the greater the payoff is in helping your own genetic material.

To receive gifts in return is therefore more important when is comes to gifts from non-relatives, such as from friends.

Girls give most

"Blood is generally thicker than water. Moreover, one can clearly see gender differences in the total number of gifts given. It’s not surprising that girls give the most Christmas presents, and that includes to friends,” says the behavioural biologist.

That women are more thorough in Christmas shopping than men doesn’t sound so revolutionary, but Mysterud also has a possible explanation for this.

“Before, it was the girls that would move from the home to begin a family, while the boys were more attached to the place in which they grew up. So saying, girls must learn from the bottom-up the new social ties. Gift giving has played an important role in winning favour in the new family,” he believes.

Unique study

There have been many gift studies earlier, but none from an evolutionary prospective. Nor has sibling birth order been studied from this perspective, making this gift study unique.

Mysterud himself is the eldest son, but he has possibly a more relaxed attitude when it comes to Christmas presents: "Even though it was early January when we asked around in the reading room, it was a surprise how many details students remembered about the gifts they had received. They even remembered the prices of almost everything!” he chuckles.

Prof Tore Slagsvold | alfa
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