Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Potpourri - Male vs. Female Christmas Shopping, Seduced by Smell & Sound, the Dreaded Holiday Syndrome & Christmas' Deadlist Side. Plus: Coumarine in Mulled Wine

"At Christmas you are supposed to get presents, not extra pounds."
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas Eve. Now that we all are in the mood, I felt that it was about time to look back - not at this year's Christmas Eve, of course.

I rather decided to look back years and started browsing the annals of various scientific databases to come up with a couple of interesting facts about Christmas... ok, ok, I expected more interesting facts, as well, but aside from a 5% increased risk of dying, Christmas is apparently a pretty boring undertaking ;-)

In other words: Don't complain that you'd rather have had a write-up of on the pro-anabolic effect of the Christmas goose and the caloric expenditure on your way to the church. Today's SuppVersity article is like a Christmas present. It may not be exactly what you had wished for.
  • Men and women are different - even when it comes to Chrismas shopping -- According to a 2009 paper by Michel Laroche et al., females comprehensively acquire in-store information, whereas males appear to heuristically limit their search to a smaller subset of in-store information.
    Figure 1: Gender differences in number of trips, the beginning and end of Christmas shopping
    It is thus no wonder that women have to make more shopping tips, have to start earlier and still don't finish their shopping spree earlier than men (see Figure 1).
  • You have been tricked - how the smell and sound of Christmas are to blame that you spent so much money on Christmas gifts this year -- Back in 2005 Spangenberg et al. conducted an interesting study to explore the joint effects of ambient scent and music on consumers' evaluations of a store, its environment and offered merchandise. The corresponding experiment had a 2 (no scent vs. Christmas scent) × 2 (non-Christmas music vs. Christmas music) design and was implemented in a mock retail store. As Spangenberg et al. point out, the results indicate that the effects of adding an ambient Christmas scent are moderated by the nature of the background music.
    Figure 2: Reactions to the retailer and merchandise with / w/out scent and music (Spangenberg. 2009)
    In other words, only the combination of both, the annoying merry-go-around of Christmas songs and the brain-poisoning stink of Apple Spice Cinnamon, Autumn Blend, Enchanted Christmas, Grecian Pear, Mulberry, Refreshing Citrus, Sensual Rose, Solace and Vanilla.

    So, next year you better go shopping with a nose clip and ear plugs... apropos, did you know that the nose clip could also come handy during the Christmas holidays? In a 2004 study by Wijk et al. subjects ingested 11% less of a delicious full fat custard dessert, when they had their nose clips. For the low fat variety which had a less pleasant mouth-feel, the reduction was even ~50% (Wijk. 2004)!
  • Figure 3: The underlying reasons of the increases in cardiac and non-cardiac deaths during the holidays is not clear.
    The deadly side effects of Christmas - almost 5% elevated cardiac mortality risk in the days between Christmas and New Year -- It's not like you were in danger of being murdered by your loved ones for buying the wrong presents. In the end, this is yet not even necessary to increase your chance of not making it to 2014.

    According to the data David P. Phillips et al. present in their 2004 paper (see Figure 3), your risk of dying from cardiac and non-cardiac death during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period is 4.65% and 4.99% higher, anyways.

    While the underlying reasons of this phenomenon are not entirely clear, Kloner et al. hypothesize that it may be brought about by ...
    • colder weather, leading to increased vascular resistance, coronary spasm, hemostasis and thrombus formation, O2 demand 
    • decreased hours of daylight
    • "postponement of death", i.e. people want to see their loved ones before they die and pass away quietly after Christmas
    • inappropriate delays in seeking medical attention
    • increased emotional stress
    • reduced levels of healthcare staffing or fewer staff members who are familiar with individual patients during holiday on-call schedules 
    • overindulgence (eg, increased intake of food, salt, fats, alcohol)
    • increased respiratory problems (eg, upper respiratory infection, influenza, particulate matter generated from wood-burning fireplaces)
    in their 2004 paper "The 'merry Christmas coronary' and 'happy New Year heart attack' phenomenon." that was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Circulation (Kloner. 2004).
Low levels of coumarin in mulled wine: The average mulled wine is not one of the various dietary sources of worrying amounts of the potentially carcinogenic coumarin. According to data from the CVUA Karlsruhe, mulled wines contain "only" 4-40mg of coumarin per kg (cinammon cookies contain up to 90mg; cf. Sproll. 2008). With a medial lethal dose of  275 mg/kg you would thus have to drink 55l of the "high coumarin" mulled wine to make it into the previously mentioned +5% extra deaths.
  • Santa gets bigger and bigger as christmas approaches - at least in the images first graders draw -- If the data Ray A. Cradick presents in a 1961 is still valid, you just have to look at the size of the Santas in children's drawings to tell how long we still have to wait for his arrival.

    In view of the fact that the Santas did not return to "normal" size immediately after Christmas the drawings of their kids are yet not a reliable method for people who want to know when he or they have to work again ;-)
  • In some people even the most "delicate" presents won't drive away the holiday blues (photo (c)  Columbia Pictures Corporation)
    The holiday syndrome - we all know it, but hopefully in a less severe incarnation -- In 1955, James P. Cattell published a paper with the telling title "The Holiday Syndrome". It describes the diffuse mixture of anxiety, helplessness, possessiveness, irritability, nostalgia or bitterness that befalls some of us during the holidays. The thoughts of our own youth, the depression, and the wish for magic cure.

    According to Cattell, people who have "few or no well established relations outside the family, a very ambivalent relationship with present family, and have a history of disruption of family constellation with divorce or parental demise" (Cattell. 1955) are most likely to suffer.

    In other words: This is not the regular tantrum we all get due to the presence, not absence of our loved ones. Maybe that's why the suicide rates on Christmas Eve are actually 30% lower than during the rest of the year. The lonesome warriors appear to wait until they slept the alcohol off and jump off the bridge on January 2, when the 30% decrease in suicide rates on Christmas Eve is compensated by similar pronounced increase in the number of suicides (Jessen. 1999). 
Famous last words: I hope none of you is suffering from the holiday syndrome and would like to wish you, your family and loved ones healthy, happy Christmas Days.
  • Cattell, J. P. (1955). The holiday syndrome. Psychoanalytic Review.
  • Cradick, R. A. (1961). Size of Santa Claus drawings as a function of time before and after Christmas. Journal of Psychological Studies.
  • Jessen, G., & Jensen, B. F. (1999). Postponed suicide death? Suicides around birthdays and major public holidays. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 29(3), 272-283.
  • Laroche, M., Saad, G., Cleveland, M., & Browne, E. (2000). Gender differences in information search strategies for a Christmas gift. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 17(6), 500-522.
  • Spangenberg, E. R., Grohmann, B., & Sprott, D. E. (2005). It's beginning to smell (and sound) a lot like Christmas: the interactive effects of ambient scent and music in a retail setting. Journal of Business Research, 58(11), 1583-1589.
  • Sproll, C., Ruge, W., Andlauer, C., Godelmann, R., & Lachenmeier, D. W. (2008). HPLC analysis and safety assessment of coumarin in foods. Food chemistry, 109(2), 462-469.
  • Phillips, D. P., Jarvinen, J. R., Abramson, I. S., & Phillips, R. R. (2004). Cardiac Mortality Is Higher Around Christmas and New Year’s Than at Any Other Time The Holidays as a Risk Factor for Death. Circulation, 110(25), 3781-3788.
  • Wijk, R. A., Polet, I. A., Engelen, L., van Doorn, R. M., & Prinz, J. F. (2004). Amount of ingested custard dessert as affected by its color, odor, and texture. Physiology & behavior, 82(2), 397-403.