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.
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.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.