People, Places, and Things

The psychology of design: How to create an environment in which you will thrive

Doing It Themselves for the Holidays

DIY gifts are a hit!

Humans are a curious species.  We devote a lot of energy to observing each other and deciphering messages that other people seem to be sending with the objects they’ve chosen to surround themselves with.  This is why we all get so worked up about which sofa to select from among equally comfortable options—we think different styles will “say” different things about us and we want those messages to be “right.”

The gifts we give convey our values to the world.  Wrapping papers can be recycled or not, for example, and the items inside those papers serious or frivolous. 

A study conducted by Buechel and Janiszewski and published in the Journal of Consumer Research indicates that gifts that are given their final tweaks by the people receiving them are more appreciated and valued than gifts that aren’t.  Providing opportunities to influence the final form a gift takes signals to recipients that the gift givers value the contribution they will make to their gift.  Gifts that recipients paint as they wish provide this sort of “recipient boost,” for example.

This holiday season, give gifts that say, “you’ll make this present great because you have good ideas.”

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Sally Augustin, Ph.D., is a practicing environmental psychologist who studies person-centered design and sensory science.


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