Research in the News: Practicality trumps desirability in gift giving

As it turns out, it’s not the thought that counts when giving a gift. In a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers have found that gift receivers would be happier if givers gave them exactly what they requested rather than attempting to be “thoughtful and considerate” by buying gifts they did not explicitly request. The study also revealed that the person receiving the gift would actually prefer a practical gift over a supposedly more desirable one.

Researchers from Yale, the University of Southern California, and New York University measured the tradeoffs between desirability and practicality in gift giver and gift receiver preferences through a series of eight classroom studies and an additional field study involving the exchange of gifts among friends.

“We predict that in a gift-giving situation, both the gift givers and gift receivers will focus on the gift receivers when thinking about the gift. Givers will choose gifts that they see as more desirable over gifts that are more practical, whereas receivers will give greater weight to the gift’s practicality,” write the authors of the study.

The authors used the example of a gift giver who knows the gift receiver loves Italian food, but has to choose between a similarly priced restaurant gift certificate for a well-rated restaurant that is an hour away versus a medium-rated restaurant that is five minutes away

The authors’ research shows that the gift giver leans towards the fancier restaurant while the gift receiver would prefer to receive a gift certificate to the restaurant that is closer to their house. “We show that givers think fancier gifts will cause them to be more liked, will show they care more, and will make their friends happier, but receivers actually think practical gifts will cause this,” the authors conclude.

The authors on the study are Ernest Baskin and Nathan Novemsky, Yale University; Cheryl J. Wakslak, University of Southern California; and Yaacov Trope, New York University. The full study is available on the journal’s website.

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