5 Weird Psychological Dangers of Giving People Gifts

#2. The Longer the Relationship, the Worse You Are at Choosing Gifts

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Everyone loves stories about couples who are as much in love after 50 years as they were back when they had complete control of their bladders. The ultimate goal of marriage is to be snuggled up to the same person, decade after decade, until your genitals wither and your partner's once supple flesh is scrunched up raisin-like beneath your arthritic palms. Old-people couples are cute, is what we're saying.

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Awwww, look at his nipple-high pants! He thinks he's people!

We'd like to think that if you spend all of your life with someone, you'll eventually know them even better than you know yourself. These beacons of companionship can basically read each other's minds, so if there is one exception to the "don't guess on the gift" rule above, it's these old farts.

But Actually ...

Psychologists from the University of Basel in Switzerland did a study with two groups of couples -- one group consisting of couples who had been together for an average of about two years, and the other old-timers who'd been married for over 40 years. The couples were presented with a number of items, including food, movies, and kitchen designs (buying someone a kitchen equals instant lay). Then they were asked to rate each prospective gift from 1 to 4 based on what they liked, and then again based on what they thought their partner would like. (You can never go wrong with Boba Fett-shaped robes, right?)


Surprisingly, the younger couples did a better job predicting what their lovers would be into. The older couples incorrectly tended to think their other half would like the same things they liked. Scientists aren't entirely sure why the older people stopped listening to each other after 40 years, but it might have something to do with the fact they'd been listening to each other for 40 goddamn years.

The researchers suggest that couples that have been together that long might just constantly lie to each other to keep the other person happy, or it might be that their generation is one that never put much stock in married couples talking to each other in the first place. But don't take that the wrong way -- the older couples reported more satisfaction with their relationships overall, suggesting that taking any notice of the other person's interests is probably a complete waste of time anyway.

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"You've been watching football down there? I just figured you were smuggling knock-off Big Hugs Elmos from Mexico."

#1. Being the Most Generous Giver Gets You Ostracized

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There are a whole bunch of social faux pas that can turn your peers against you. You could put your keys in the bowl even though you haven't showered for three days, and anyway it's not swingers night until next week. Typically, though, the guy or girl everyone finds most annoying is the one who never contributes -- they don't bring drinks to parties, they "forget" their wallet when you go out, and they ask if anyone has a spare set of keys, because they walked and surely two nights of group loving a month would be fine?

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"Also you have to be on top and do all the work."

So by that logic, the person on the other end of that scale -- the one who is paying more than his or her fair share -- is the most loved. Wait, did we just use the word "logic" there? Uh oh ...

But Actually ...

Don't get us wrong, people do hate the non-contributors. But they've got just as big a rage boner for those who contribute more than everyone else, even if everyone involved ends up better off as a result.

Sociologists at Washington State University did an experiment to test how people reacted to outliers who were either stingier or more altruistic than average. Participants were told they were part of a group of six and sat in front of a computer to take part in a turn-based test (the rest of the group were really just computer simulations). They were given points they would later be able to cash in for the chance to win a gift card, and asked to decide how much to contribute to a community pot. When everyone was done making voluntary donations, the pot would be doubled and split equally. In other words, if most people were kind, everyone would be better off, but one stingy asshole could game the system by donating nothing and ending up with more. So kind of basic Game Theory, right?

Vico Images/Alin Dragulin/FogStock/Getty
This person will be the same one who asks, "The card says 'from all of us,' right?"

In the second round, people were allowed to spend some of their points to punish another member by taking theirs away. Unsurprisingly, the subjects tended to punish the greedy non-contributor for not playing fair. But people in the experiment also opted to be needlessly horrible when the rogue participant had donated more (and benefited literally everyone).

You can already guess why -- it's the same reason you always see backlash against someone like Bono, who makes a big show of helping starving Africans and reminding us of how much better he is than we are. We want to punish them for showing off. In other words, we have such a strong impulse to force people to conform to the group and punish those who don't make an effort to fit in, that we do it even if "not fitting in" is the equivalent of "making life better for the group overall."

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How else can you explain Crocs?

Stop and think about that for a while, and you might come to the conclusion that humanity is doomed.

Daniel's unsolicited gift to the world is his humor blog, so you're welcome. Alan will overcome his manly inhibitions and be thankful if you follow him on twitter or read his blog.

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As 2013 draws to a close, be sure to check out Cracked's year in review because, well, we know you don't remember it half as well as you think.

Related Reading: For a look at the best gifts money can buy, click here. Shark-boats are a pretty risk-free present. If you're more interested in avoiding the worst gifts on earth, this is the article to read. Nobody wants novelty presents. And nobody wants these incredibly creepy gifts.

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