In the Spotlight:
The Drama of Gift Reception
David B. Wooten
University of Michigan
Stacy L. Wood
University of South Carolina
Gift exchange is a consumption ritual of great economic (e.g., Camerer, 1988), social (e.g., Cheal, 1987), and psychological significance (e.g., Neisser, 1973). Although the form and functions of these rituals vary across the occasions and cultures they span, some aspects are common across gift exchange rituals (Green & Alden, 1988). For instance, with few exceptions (e.g., Mick & DeMoss, 1990; Sherry, McGrath, & Levy, 1995), gift rituals involve giver and recipient as primary performance roles. The two principal cast members have freedom to choose how they enact their roles, but ritual scripts cue them to incorporate certain acts and props into their performances.
Although givers and recipients are coperformers in gift exchange rituals, they rarely receive equal billing in the literature. For instance, recent studies have explored motives that influence how givers enact their roles (e.g., Otnes, Lowrey, & Kim, 1993) and factors that make them agonize over their performances (Wooten, 2000). In contrast, researchers have paid little attention to the performance of gift reception (Sherry, 1996). This inattention is surprising given the excessive attention paid by givers, especially as recipients unwrap and respond to their gifts (Schwartz, 1967). Recipients' performances are part of the interaction ritual that occurs after gifts are presented (Sherry, 1983). Moreover, gift receipt experiences shape and reflect relationships between givers and recipients (Ruth, Otnes, & Brunei, 1999). These insights suggest that greater knowledge of gift reception can provide a deeper understanding of gift exchange rituals.
This chapter addresses a gap in the gift-giving literature by exploring the ritual behaviors of gift recipients. Gift recipients were interviewed, their public reactions to gifts were observed, and their written expressions of gratitude were analyzed in order to understand their internal scripts and expressive behaviors. Be