Newspaper article MinnPost.com

The Psychology of Gift Giving (and Receiving): Some Last-Minute Advice

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

The Psychology of Gift Giving (and Receiving): Some Last-Minute Advice

Article excerpt

Still have some last-minute gifts to buy this holiday season? Are you struggling for ideas?

In a recent podcast for the British Psychological Society (BPS), psychologist and science writer Christian Jarrett interviewed several people who have researched different aspects of the psychology of gift giving. He wanted to find out if their findings could "help us navigate the somewhat tricky business of giving and receiving presents."

What he uncovered may surprise you. Here are two highlights:

* It can be good for a relationship to give someone a gift that says something about you rather than about them.

That finding comes from a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In one of the study's experiments, more than 100 students were asked to choose a musical track on iTunes to give to a friend, relative or romantic partner. Half were instructed to choose a track that "reveals your knowledge of the recipient." The rest were told to make a selection that "reveals your true self."

Which type was the biggest hit with the recipient?

"When we contacted ... those who had received the song, they reported feeling closer to the giver when getting a song that actually reflected the giver rather than themselves," says Lara Aknin, a co-author of the study and a psychologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, in the BPS podcast.

That finding runs counter to conventional wisdom. Why?

"Point one is that we could get it wrong when trying to give a gift that we think reflects the other person," says Aknin. "But the flip side is that we might actually feel closer when we give gifts that reflect ourselves because essentially you can think of it as offering a piece of yourself to the recipient, kind of sharing your interests and passions. We know from past research that acts like this of self-disclosure can bring people closer together and can just, in and of itself, make the person who's sharing things about themselves feel good."

But, warns Aknin, don't overdo it. Her study's findings come with an important caveat: The experiments involved a one-time gift exchange.

"It could perhaps come to backfire in the long term if you are constantly giving gifts that reflect you," she says. …

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