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Secret Santa Reveals the Secret Side of Giving

17 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2009  

Brian Duncan

University of Colorado at Denver


This article shows how a secret Santa gift exchange offers unique insights into the nature of generosity and charitable giving. In a dictator experiment modified with features similar to a secret Santa gift exchange, I find that individuals contribute less when their gifts are allocated such that each person gives to fewer recipients. The results are inconsistent with both altruism and warm glow, suggesting that players are motivated by something in addition to these conventional models of generosity. Several alternative models of generosity are shown to be consistent with the experimental findings, all of which imply that, in addition to any positive externalities, giving can also carry a negative externality.

JEL Classification: H41, C92, D62

Suggested Citation

Duncan, Brian, Secret Santa Reveals the Secret Side of Giving. Economic Inquiry, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 165-181, January 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1331690 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1465-7295.2008.00145.x

Brian Duncan (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Denver ( email )

Box 173364
1250 14th Street
Denver, CO 80217
United States

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