If you're struggling to find a thoughtful gift for someone you barely know: Relax a little. Your thought doesn't count as much as you think it does, according to experiments on the psychology of gift giving and receiving.
Photo by Laura Bittner.
In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people were asked to buy a friend or a stranger a gift from a museum shop. The recipients only cared whether the gift was a nice one, not whether they knew the giver had chosen it thoughtfully.
The only time the thought mattered was if the giver had picked out a crappy gift, thoughtlessly, for a close friend or family member. In this example, the recipient was told they were getting something cool like a Newton's cradle, but it turned out the giver could only choose things like a pen or a deck of cards. If the person liked to play cards, and they got cards, they were OK with the gift. But if the gift was lacklustre and chosen randomly, the recipient was disappointed.
The lesson seems to be: For people you aren't super close to, don't worry about buying a gift that looks thoughtful. Just buy something that's likely to be wanted. Cash, for example, goes over well, and so does anything on the person's wish list. Regifting is fine, according to other experiments, and so is giving everybody the same gift. Read more about the psychology of gift giving at the link below.
The Perfect Gift? It's the One They Asked For [New York Times]