When It Comes to Gifts We Like, It’s Not the Thought That Counts

The gift-giving season is upon us, and people are flocking to the stores and malls searching for the perfect gifts for their friends and family members. As they embark on this yearly ritual, should they spend time and energy focusing on putting as much thought into their gift selection as possible? Or should people seek out the gift most desired by the recipient, regardless of the personal attachment to it? According to Yan Zhang of the Business School of the National University of Singapore, the thought behind the gift does not count as much as the gift itself.

Zhang asked patrons of a local museum to participate in an experiment on gift giving and receiving. Forty-four people volunteered and were asked to predict how much gratitude a giver would feel under various circumstances. They were presented with scenarios that detailed a gift giver putting thought into gift selection, and receivers viewing the gift as either good or bad. Another scenario depicted no thought preceding the gift selection, with the receiver again deciding whether the gift was a good gift or a bad gift. The volunteers predicted that gifts that were liked would result in more gratitude than disliked presents, but that thoughtful gifts would elicit more gratitude than thoughtless gifts regardless of whether the gift was good or bad.

Surprisingly, the volunteers’ predictions were wrong. The results revealed that gift recipients were not more grateful or appreciative of a thoughtful gift if the gift was good. In fact, the thought didn’t count at all when the gift was liked. It was only when the gift was bad that the recipients considered the thought behind the gift, perhaps in an effort to validate the gift. When givers were evaluated, they felt less emotionally connected to recipients when they put little thought into the gift, even if it was the gift requested by the recipient. This suggests that people who put time, effort, and emotional resources into gift selection could strengthen the attachment and bond they feel with the recipient. Although this does not always result in a liked gift, it can serve an even greater purpose: strengthening relationship bonds and individual happiness. “If you want to give a gift that someone will appreciate, then you should focus on getting a good gift and ignore whether it is a thoughtful gift or not,” Zhang said. But if an individual wants to feel more connected to that someone special, he or she should put some thought into picking out a gift. Even if the recipient doesn’t recognize the thoughtfulness, it will benefit the giver in the long run.

Reference:
Zhang, Yan, and Nicholas Epley. Exaggerated, mispredicted, and misplaced: When “it’s the thought that counts” in gift exchanges. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 141.4 (2012): 667-81. Print.

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  • Irene

    Irene

    November 23rd, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    Too much importance given to gifts for sometime now.Whether the thought counts or not,the act of making other people happy and helping the needy was the concept behind gifting,a concept we have now forgotten and only focus on whether the gift is good or bad or how grand it is.What is need is just KISS_keep it simple,silly.

  • jessica

    jessica

    November 23rd, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    the thought counts??I dont think thats true one bit.Sounds so formal and it is just that!its like “I didnt like the gift but hey let me not be rude to you and say something nice”.lets admit this,most of us look forward to being gifted the things we desire,more than a gift with some meaning or substance.it may be a gizmo or an iPod but a book is not appreciated the same.

  • hollis c

    hollis c

    November 24th, 2012 at 5:27 AM

    This season has become so materialistic that it really bugs me so much that sometimes I don’t even want to participate anymore!
    Kind of hard to go off the Christmas grid though.
    It’s all about the shopping and the deals, not any focus anymore on what the season really is all about.

  • Taylor

    Taylor

    November 24th, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    I always make it a point to see things from the recipient’s point of view while looking for a gift. Because come on, it doesn’t matter what I think they need. What matters a lot more is what they want. At least that’s the way it is with me when I receive a gift. I guess I apply the same rule to others. And that’s fair enough I guess!

  • mari jo

    mari jo

    November 25th, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    There are many times that I get so caught up in the rush, feeling like I have to get something for everyone that I too lose sight of the real meaning behind the gift.
    It shouldn’t be the gift but rather the thought that counts, but I realize that I should spend more time considering what someone wold actually like instead of giving a gift with no menaing behind it at all.
    That in itself is almost as bad as not giving anything at all, because there is no thought or consideration being put into it.

  • Barnett

    Barnett

    November 25th, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    Come on, lets be honest here. Who doesn’t desire a gift of their choice! A lot of people would prefer that over somebody else’s choice any day!

    While I might say “Oh its the thought that counts” to salvage a situation, you should know I would have much preferred a gift of my liking than something you picked up with your good thoughts, thanks.

  • Sylvia.T

    Sylvia.T

    November 25th, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    From a giver’s point of view,I would try to gift the desired gifts to children and gifts with thoughts for adults.I think adults are matured enough to see the thought behind the gift they receive compared to children.

    The best part of gift giving is no matter how big or expensive your gift is,if liked by the recipient(desired/understands significance and thought) there is just no other joy like it.

  • P N

    P N

    November 26th, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    When it comes to gifts its always a puzzle isnt it..I get so confused as to deciding on what is to be gifted..most often I try to inquire or know the person’s desired gift without actually letting them know what its for.more of a I-am-asking-you-but-you-will-not-know-why kind of questions.because ultimately if the person receiving it is happy then I am happy.its no use gifting something that the person would not like,just because I had a thought behind the selection!

  • Chastity n

    Chastity n

    November 26th, 2012 at 4:02 AM

    Christmas is the one time of the year when you should be very thoughtful and generous with whatever gift that you give.
    It should not only be about what the recipient wants, but also about what makes you feel good to give it.
    This is not the time for the gift card people, because this just shows an utter disregard for who the person is and what they may love. That’s the easy way out from my point of view.
    I put a whole lot of time and energy into the search for the perfect gift, and you know what? That’s what makes me feel good.

  • donald

    donald

    November 26th, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    while the thought of the sender has meaning for me,it is only up until the gift is either desirable or neutral.when I dislike a gift somehow the thought of the sender disappears from my mind and I am just sitting there thinking about how to get away from it.I am sure many of us have done this (?)

  • Cate

    Cate

    November 27th, 2012 at 4:38 PM

    Just smile and say thank you
    That’s what my momma always told me
    And that’s the one little truism that helps you keep your friends no matter what kind of gift you get!

  • Jenn

    Jenn

    December 31st, 2015 at 3:04 PM

    Can we have some details on what this ‘thoughtfulness’ was? I’d like to know how you can be thoughtful wen giving a gift, yet paid absolutely no attention to what the person actually wanted.

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