Thoughtful gifts are the best gifts, right? Not so fast. Choosing a "thoughtful" gift might be more selfish than letting your gift recipient choose their own gift. Photo by OakleyOriginals.
Researchers at Ward of Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Austin conducted a series of experiments with 90 university students. Half were put in the gift recipient group and asked to choose a lamp to put on their gift registry. The other half, the givers, were asked to pick out a lamp for the recipients from five options, with one lamp marked as the one on the person's registry.
The results are fascinating. Only 23 per cent of the gift givers chose a different lamp for the other person if they weren't close friends. However, if the gift giver and recipients were friends? An incredible 61 per cent of the gift givers ignored the registry choice and selected a different lamp.
Although it's a small sample size, the studies point out the bias we have when selecting gifts for our friends. Gift-giving is an occasion to share your personal interests with the recipient or demonstrate how well you know him or her. Whether consciously or not, we consider our own need to choose a "meaningful" gift and our relationship with the person rather than what the person might really want (even as stated on the gift registry!). The Washington Post explains:
The discrepancy seems to come from a simple misplaced belief that thoughtful presents are the best presents. They are not. In fact, they might just be the worst presents. The more thought you put into a present, the more likely you are to stray from buying what the person you're buying the present for actually wants.
"Gift givers tend to focus on what people are like instead of what people actually would like," said Steffel. "And it's most pronounced when they're shopping for people they are close to."
In other words, people let their gift-giving egos get in the way of great presents. Especially when the recipient is someone they want to show they know really well.
If there's a registry, stick to it. If not, you might be better off asking your friend what he or she wants or giving a gift card with a suggestion for something he or she might like. Perhaps that sounds thoughtless and lazy, but your friend might appreciate it more. If you're on the gift-receiving end, you could help your friends out by setting up your wish list.
Ask and You Shall (Not) Receive: Close Friends Prioritise Relational Signalling Over Recipient Preferences in Their Gift Choices [Social Science Research Network via The Washington Post]
Why thoughtful gifts are the worst gifts [The Washington Post]