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The surprising benefit of passive–aggressive behaviour at Christmas parties: being crowned king of the crackers

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How does Jack Frost get to work?

By icicle.

So begin many Christmas parties in Australia, as guests break the ice by pulling Christmas crackers, playing with the prizes and donning the easy-to-tear paper crowns found therein. While the groan-inducing jokes about frost, penguins and snowmen may seem out of place in the heat of summer, this tradition is as popular Down Under as in its native Britain. Traditionally, the person left holding the larger portion of the cracker is declared the winner of the prizes and gets to wear the paper crown during dinner. While the prizes are rarely anything to write home about (Box 1, Box 2), guests’ competitive natures are aroused by the activity, and everyone would love to be a winner on their first try.

A natural follow-up to the pulling of crackers, particularly for parties where the guests are of a scientific bent, is to formulate theories on the best strategy to employ for a win. Such theories typically focus on technique and physical strength, but we consider here the possibility that attitude also plays a role. In contrast to the ambition typically found in those who aspire to be crowned king, in this study we investigate whether a “Bah, humbug!” passive–aggressive attitude towards Christmas may be of…