The Science Of Gifts: Dealing With Picky People And Finding The Right Present

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Gift exchanges can reveal how people think about others, what they value and enjoy and how they build and maintain relationships.

Researchers are exploring gift giving and receiving, such as how givers choose gifts, how gifts are used by recipients and how gifts impact the relationship between givers and receivers.

According to a poll, people are becoming increasingly selective about the items they want.

Researchers Andong Cheng, Meg Meloy and Evan Polman surveyed 7,466 Black Friday shoppers in 2013 and found 39% of the items they purchased were for individuals they considered “picky”.

We know very little about how people cope with the challenge of shopping for a picky person.

However, Cheng and her colleagues confirmed that shoppers are less motivated when choosing gifts for people they believe to be picky.

Gift givers are more likely to give gift cards or forgo a gift altogether for a picky recipient.

However, there is an upside to being picky. Shoppers are more likely to buy an item the picky recipient specifically requests.

Less picky people have a higher chance of receiving items they don’t want. Picky recipients get what they want more often.

Finding the right gift to fit the person can be extremely difficult and a gift card can be a tempting solution.

Chelsea Helion and Thomas Gilovich are studying how individuals perceive and spend gift cards.

Gift cards hit a sweet spot, with the flexibility of cash but are given and meant to be spent as gifts.

“While gift cards technically could be used to buy mundane things like textbooks or paper towels, we find that this feels like a misuse of the card,” says lead researcher Chelsea Helion. “When paying with a gift card, people forgo buying everyday items in favor of buying indulgent items.”

People are more likely to buy luxury items with a gift card than a credit card or cash.

“We find that this is because individuals experience less guilt when paying with a gift card, compared to credit cards or cash,” Helion says.

Gift-givers tend to choose gifts that are personalised to the recipient, but are less versatile than what the recipient would like to receive, according to new research by Mary Steffel, Elanor Williams and Robyn LeBoeuf.

This mismatch arises because givers tend to focus on recipients’ stable traits rather than varying wants and needs.

“Givers tend to focus on what recipients are like rather than what they would like. This can lead them to gravitate toward gifts that are personalized but not very versatile,” says lead researcher Mary Steffel.

To give a gift that is more likely to match a recipient’s preferences, the researchers recommend a focus more on what the recipient would like rather than focusing on their unique traits.

Consumers frequently struggle with what kinds of gifts to give, leading to an overwhelming number of top 10 gift lists and online guides which aim to improve your relationship with the receiver.

Researchers Cindy Chan and Cassie Mogilner offer simple guidance: give an experience.

Experiments examining actual and hypothetical gift exchanges in relationships reveal that experience gifts produce greater improvements in relationship than material gifts, regardless of whether the gift is consumed together.

According to Chan and Mogilner’s research, the relationship improvements stem from the emotion evoked when the gifts are consumed not when the gifts are received.

In February the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Convention in Long Beach, California, will look at the Psychology of Gift Giving and Receiving.

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