Just in time for the holidays, a trio of social scientists have reviewed decades of research on the psychology of giving and receiving gifts. The new study was published in the December issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science by lead author Jeff Galak of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, along with co-authors Julian Givi and Elanor Williams.
The results show that there is one big mistake people make more often than any other when they are selecting gifts. This major misunderstanding results in at least seven mismatches between what gift givers think their recipients want and what the recipients really want. Those mismatches can be often be easily corrected, and then recipients don’t have to pretend to like their gifts—they will actually like them.
The mistake gift givers most often make is to focus too much on the moment when the recipient opens the gift. They want that wow factor. They want recipient to be surprised, dazzled, and impressed by the expense of the gift or by the giver’s apparent understanding of what makes the recipient unique.
The problem is that the recipients of gifts typically care about more than just the experience of opening the gift. Instead, recipients value gifts they can use and enjoy throughout the entire time that they own it.
Here are seven examples of the mismatch between what gift-givers think other people want and what other people really want:
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Galak, J., Givi, J., & Williams, E. F. (2016). Why certain gifts are great to give but not to get: A framework for understanding errors in gift giving. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25, 380-385.