The Psychology of Gifting, Part 2

February 22, 2016

The Psychology of Gifting - Part 2 - SmartGift

It’s a week after V-Day. Many of you are still coasting on your Valentine’s Day high. A few of you, however, might be feeling a little less than tickled pink. Here are some more revelations from the world of the psychology of gifting that might help put your funky mood in better perspective.

Gender Differences in Giving Gifts

Were you expecting chocolate and champagne, but instead received a new washing machine? (True story. I remember the smile/grimace my mother gave while recounting this story perfectly!) Luckily for my mom, she was aware of how gender differences play a big role in gift giving. Unsurprisingly, men tend to give gifts that are pragmatic. Women, however, are much more likely to be sentimental about gifts and attach a great deal of meaning to a gift.

My father didn’t know the first thing about jewelry, but he did know that my mother did a ton of laundry for him and her three kids. In his head, he was purchasing her a gift that would improve the quality of her life, no matter how unromantic the gift seemed (a fact that was much clearer in retrospect.)

After that incident, dad became the first person to admit that his gift giving game needed a little work. To him, my mom seemed to know exactly what gifts to get like she was a psychic! Scientific studies even back up the claim that, in general, women are better at selecting gifts than men. Women tend to spend more time involved in the gifting process; they buy more gifts, start their shopping earlier, and spend more per recipient compared to men.

Gift Cards flatten the emotional impact of giving a gift

As to be expected, gender differences come into play with gift cards as well. A woman is less likely to appreciate a gift card from her beau because of the lack of sentimental value. Hopefully you’re starting to sense a theme here.

More generally, gift cards dull the emotional impact of giving. Think about it. Unless the amount on the card was $$$$, when was the last time you were really bowled over by receiving a gift card? Gift cards are practical, but getting someone a gift card can push the pressure of finding the right gift on to the recipient. Haven’t you ever been on the receiving end of a gift card, but felt like buying something purely practical was somehow a “misuse” of the gift card? Well, you’re not the only one; since 2008, the amount in unused gift cards totals $44B.

Steven Gimbel, Ph.D., Chair of the department of philosophy at Gettysburg College gives three reasons to avoid giving gift cards:

  1. By buying a gift card, you are making the receiver do his own shopping.
  2. It’s like giving cash, except now the recipient is restricted by where they can spend it.
  3. With a gift, it is supposed to be the thought that counts, but with a gift card puts the focus on the card value.

No matter the disappointment, maybe you should think twice about regifting

Despite the perceived taboo, countless online articles are devoted to how to regift and not get caught. The etiquette experts at Emily Post believe that regifting is inherently deceitful and should be avoided at all costs. More liberal minded folks have tried to turn regifting into a holiday with National Regifting Day.

So which is it? According to gift psychology, givers are surprisingly far less offended by having one of their gifts regifted than recipients believe they will be. It’s the recipient that feels the greater obligation to hold on to the gift. However, that comes with some caveats that should be pretty familiar to you gift-savvy readers by now. Regifting should be based on the relationship between the giver and the recipient. In other words, it’s okay to regift that tacky scarf you got in the office Secret Santa, but don’t regift something from a loved one or close friend.

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