According to a new study led by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), handing out gifts significantly lowers blood pressure and heart rate, thus decreasing the risk of cardiovascular incidents such as heart attacks or strokes.
While previous studies have shown that the act of giving can improve mood and mental wellbeing, this is the first study to investigate the correlation between gift giving and cardiovascular benefits.
The researchers recruited 90 college students and initially exposed them to a stressful situation by telling them that they have only a few minutes to prepare for a speech they had to deliver in front of a large audience.
After measuring their heart rate and blood pressure (which usually spiked after being exposed to the stressor), half of the students were told that they could choose a gift and send it to anyone they wanted together with an email explaining why they chose them. The rest of the participants were told to choose a gift card for themselves.
The scientists found that, when stressed students were allowed to send someone a gift, both their heart rate and blood pressure decreased significantly. By contrast, there was no significant cardiovascular improvement in the case of the other participants.
“Prosocial behavior – or the warm glow of giving – can have many benefits. As well as reducing heart rate and blood pressure, it lowers rates of depression and stress. We found it had a greater effect than self-rewarding behavior,” reported the study authors.
“Giving gifts or helping others makes us more sociable and less aggressive. Much of our normal lives are spent earning money to look after ourselves and our families, often in jobs where sometimes you have to be ruthless with other people. Giving Christmas presents is a chance to compensate for that – and it’s good for our health,” concluded study co-author Gary Cooper, a psychologist and stress expert at Alliance Manchester Business School.
The study is published in the journal Psychophysiology.