12/19/2016

If your gift choices seem to disappoint, psychology may explain why


So, you fancy yourself a really good giver of gifts, don’t you?

You think really hard about your prospective gift recipient’s style and taste. You go for something that really says, “I get you!” Choose a gift from someone’s gift registry? Nah, you say: I can do better than that.

Sometimes you even spend a little more than you should on that special something. It’s worth it, you figure: My giftee is going to be bowled over by this.

Well, get ready, my gifting friend: Psychological science is about to untie your bow, big-time.

In the spirit of holiday giving, the latest issue of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science has decided to clue us in to the chasm that too often exists between your thought process in choosing a gift and the value and pleasure your recipient will get from that gift.

In the psychological literature, this phenomenon is known as “miscalibrated gift choice.” It has its roots in “giver-recipient discrepancy.” And it’s the cause of untold cases of post-holiday dysphoria (or, if you will, disappointment).

It turns out that after the torn wrapping paper has been trashed and the smiles of good cheer have faded, the recipient of your gift is not actually reliving the magic moment in which he or she opened your gift and felt that warm glow of being understood that you were going for. Far more often than he or she would probably admit, your giftee is gazing on your token of esteem and affection and asking ruefully, “What the Hell am I gonna do with this?”

Or maybe just, “Why?”

“People exchange gifts to strengthen their relationships and make each other happy,” write Jeff Galak and Julian Givi of Carnegie Mellon University’s social and decision science program and social psychologist Elanor F. Williams of Indiana University.

“But [they] do not always manage to meet those goals,” they added....more