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It's the thought that counts--not the money--when it comes to gifts: givers often don't shift their perspective to that of the receiver.

It's enough to give pause to any financially strapped Santa Claus, and perhaps elicit his applause. Don't worry about cutting back on holiday gift spending during hard times for fear of disappointing others, at least if they're grown-ups. People appreciate receiving modestly priced gifts as much as they do expensive ones, although gift givers typically don't realize it, a new study shows.

For as yet unclear reasons, gift givers are often unable to use their experience as gift receivers to identify especially meaningful gifts for friends and loved ones, says Francis Flynn of Stanford University. "People assume that the more they spend on presents, the more those presents will be appreciated, but we find that that's not the case," Flynn says. This result raises the possibility that lavish gifts are often viewed by their recipients as ostentatious gestures rather than generous ones.

The research, described by Flynn and Stanford graduate student Gabrielle Adams online November 18 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, reflects the broader interest in exploring the extent to which people can shift their perspective during social encounters.

In three different investigations of gift exchanges among adults, the researchers consistently found that givers wrongly assumed that money spent on gifts would buy recipients' appreciation. "I suspect we'd see different results if we studied gift appreciation among children," Flynn predicts. Kids, more than adults, focus primarily on the nature of a gift rather than its source.

Gift givers reported that relatively expensive purchases best conveyed thoughtfulness and consideration, the Stanford researchers say. Givers apparently spent more on a gift to impress a recipient with their caring, not their cash, the researchers suggest. Yet recipients preferred gifts that they really needed or that had special personal meaning, regardless of price.

Tina Lowrey, a marketing professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, calls the new research "an intriguing first step" toward using experimental methods to untangle how gift prices relate to gift appreciation. But as indicated by earlier interview-based studies of people who made real-world gift exchanges, many factors influence how givers and receivers behave and react, Lowrey says.

In this study, the team surveyed people who had given or received engagement rings and people who had given or received birthday gifts, asking participants to estimate the price and rate the expected or actual amount of appreciation. In a third study, the team surveyed people who imagined having received a CD or an iPod as a gift.
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Title Annotation:Humans
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 3, 2009
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