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The Scientifically-Proven Way To Give the Perfect Gift

posted: 12/15/15
by: Mara Betsch
Receiving gift and kiss
iStock

If you're anything like me, gift-giving can be agonizing. You scour stores and every website to try to find a thoughtful, useful gift that perfectly captures everything your recipient wants. Is it too impersonal? Is this something she'll actually use? Is it too boring?

Thankfully, researchers delved into the question of what exactly makes the perfect gift to help people like me and maybe you, too. In the study "Give a Piece of You: Gifts That Reflect Givers Promote Closeness," which appeared in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in August, researchers looks at what types of gifts strengthen relationships. The findings are particularly relevant now that we're in the height of the holiday season.

Doctors Lara B. Aknin and Lauren J. Human conducted a series of six studies looking at people's intuitions, about what types of gifts they should give to strengthen social relationships.

For the first study, they asked a group of individuals about giving and receiving gifts and if they preferred gifts that reflect the giver or the receiver. And, unsurprisingly, people liked giving gifts that played to the recipient. "Overwhelmingly we found that people prefer what we called recipient-centric gifts, that is, when the participant is the giver, they prefer giving a gift that reflects the recipient, a gift that kind of captures the interests and passions of the person to whom you are giving. And when people are the recipients, they prefer to get the gift that reflects them," Dr. Aknin said on the Methodology for Psychology podcast.

The second study asked the same question to people who planned to give a gift for Valentine's Day and then followed up with them, finding that most people put their money where they mouth is and sought out to give a gift that reflected the recipient.

But the next four studies examined a different question -- what gifts bring people together? And this answers may surprise you! "Turns out that people reported higher levels of relationship closeness or higher levels of relationship closeness gains when they think about a time that they gave a gift that reflected themselves as opposed to others." In the final of the six studies, students were randomly assigned to two groups. Each group was told to select an iTunes song for a recipient, and one chose a song that reflected them while the other chose a tune that reflected the recipient.

"What we found was that the recipients who received giver-centric gifts reported high levels of relationship closeness than those recipients who received gifts that reflected themselves," Dr. Aknin said on the podcast.

Interesting, right? So though it seems like people feel they should give gifts that capture a recipient's interests, those receiving the gifts like to see a piece of you in their gift. According to the authors, this is especially useful when giving gifts to people who you may not know as well. If you're not sure what type of wine he or she likes, giving your favorite bottle of red may help both of you get to know each other.

And though this is interesting, we don't recommend you giving your spouse tickets to the ballet if he prefers basketball. Instead, try giving your neighbor a candle in your favorite scent or giving your marathon-running sister-in-law a iPod nano filled with your favorite workout songs. The idea is to strike a balance and, when in doubt, just get a gift card!