Want to Give a Good Gift? Think Past the “Big Reveal”

Posted on November 9, 2017

Jeff Galak from Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business, Elanor Williams from Indiana University Kelley School of Business, and PhD. Student Julian Givi led research on gift selection, and found that gift givers tend to focus on the moment of exchange when selecting a gift, whereas gift recipients are more focused on the long-term utility or practical attributes of the gift.

“We studied many existing frameworks from research in this area, trying to find a common ground between them. What we found was that the giver wants to ‘wow’ the recipient and give a gift that can be enjoyed immediately, in the moment, while the recipient is more interested in a gift that provides value over time,” explained Galak. “We are seeing a mismatch between the thought processes and motivations of gift givers and recipients. Put another way, there may be times when the vacuum cleaner, a gift that is unlikely to wow most recipients when they open it on Christmas day, really ought to be at the top of the shopping list as it will be well used and liked for a long time.”

In general, this differential focus on the moment of exchange and the desirability of the gift can be found in a number of different ways, such as the following gift giving errors:
- Giving unrequested gifts in an effort to surprise the recipient, when they are likely hoping for a gift from a pre-constructed list or registry;
- Focusing on tangible, material gifts, which are likely to be immediately well received, when experiential gifts, such as theater tickets or a massage, would result in more enjoyment later on;
- Giving socially responsible gifts, such as donations to a charity in the recipient’s name, which seem special at the moment of gift exchange but provide almost no value to recipients down the road.

The researchers make recommendations for those hoping to choose better gifts, advising them to better empathize with gift recipients when thinking about gifts that would be both appreciated and useful.

“We exchange gifts with the people we care about, in part, in an effort to make them happy and strengthen our relationships with them,” Galak added. “By considering how valuable gifts might be over the course of the recipient’s ownership of them, rather than how much of a smile it might put on recipients’ faces when they are opened, we can meet these goals and provide useful, well-received gifts.”


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Source material from Psychological Science


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