The Science Behind Giving Good Gifts

alex atkins bookshelf cultureA big part of what causes stress during the holidays is finding the perfect gift for that special someone in your life. It’s an annual rite of passage after Thanksgiving, spending hours finding parking, walking across miles of crowded malls, rummaging through piles of merchandise inside under-staffed department stores, learning that the one item you need is not the right size or is out of stock. Finally, out of desperation, you resort to strategies that have worked for you in the past — but wait! Not so fast. There is research that provides shoppers with guidance of what makes a good or bad gift. Let’s start off on what not to do.

Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology indicated that it is the item — not the cost — that counts. Researchers found no correlation between gift recipient satisfaction and cost of present.

A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decisions found that making a charitable gift on behalf of a close friend or family member is appreciated; however, that type of gift offends casual acquaintances because they feel the gift giver did not really focus on them.

Research from the Yale’s Association for Consumer Research discovered that the fancy, beautiful wrapping of a gift slightly enhanced the satisfaction of the present when the recipient liked the gift; however, that nice wrapping worsened the recipients perception of a gift that was not liked. The fancy wrapping sets up cognitive dissonance, since the gift does not meet the recipient’s expectations.

A study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that gift-giver tend to overestimate the recipient’s satisfaction of a surprise gift. At bottom, people appreciate receiving what they asked for rather than some random surprise gift.

OK. So now we know what not to do. Let’s see what research tells us about what we should do with respect with gift giving.

A survey by the National Retail Federation found that people prefer gift certificates, followed by cash, as holiday gifts.

A series of studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology confirmed what commonsense tells us: people prefer receiving holiday gifts that reflect their hobbies and interests. Researchers also learned that “givers and receivers report greater feelings of closeness to their gift partner when the gift reflects the giver.”

Finally, a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that people like the gift that keeps giving, in other words, gifts that they can use for months and years, as opposed to something that is used or consumed quickly after unwrapping.

So the lesson here is this: whatever you do, do not wrap up a really expensive Christmas fruitcake in fancy, beautiful paper with a card stating that you are also donating one to a nonprofit organization — and spring it on the recipient as a big holiday surprise. Research clearly tells us that the reaction will be: WTF?

Read related posts: The Art of Giving Good Gifts
What Returns Cost Retailers
Gift Cards by the Numbers
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Trivia

The Origin of the Name Scrooge
The Inspiration for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Twas the Night Before Christmas
A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life
Best Quotes from A Christmas Carol
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
The Story Behind Scrooge
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
The Story Behind “The Night Before Christmas”

For further reading:

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: