A study of people’s preferences when it comes to receiving or giving gifts showed that long-term gifts like books and money may not get the biggest reaction but provide more satisfaction to the receiver.
Researchers from the National University of Singapore and the University of Chicago conducted six experiments asking people about giving and receiving gifts.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found people were more likely to try to get a reaction from presents if they are present to see them being opened
They found gift-givers prefer those expected to produce smiles or gasps of joy, but people receiving them prefer gifts which will make them happy over the long-term.
Dr Adelle Yang, who led the study from the department of marketing at the National University of Singapore, said: ‘Despite best intentions, gift-giving often goes wrong and recipients end up not being satisfied with what they are given.
“Our research suggests that a key reason that gift-givers give unsatisfactory gifts is that they are keen to elicit bright smiles or squeals of delight with their gifts and that such reactions are frequently not paired with gifts that are deeply valued,” she said.
The study found almost 40% of men would choose a dozen roses over a bonsai tree to buy their partner for Valentine’s Day.
But just 27.8% of women preferred the bouquet to the houseplant.
Men chose the present they thought would get the best reaction, but that was not as important to the people receiving it.
When the researchers asked 80 people for their favourite gifts, books and money came out at the top for satisfaction, despite causing little in the way of smiles or squeals.
Further analysis of 198 people and 600 Christmas gifts found tools like a cordless drill often get little reaction but provide high satisfaction.
Frivolous items like cupcakes produce a good reaction, such as a big smile, but low satisfaction.
Another experiment found gift-givers preferred personalized mugs but people given them preferred less thoughtful ergonomic ones designed to be easy to use.
Almost half of the gift-givers surveyed by researchers chose pretty wrapping paper over an upgrade to the present, a Bluetooth phone speaker when expecting to see it unwrapped in person. This fell to less than 28% if the present was sent by post.
Dr Yang said, ”This research suggests gift-givers may be able to spot gifts that would be deemed satisfying by recipients but that their gift choices are often dominated by a wish to get positive reactions.“
‘Unfortunately, money and books tend not to evoke the bright smiles which come from gifts appealing directly to the senses, such as fresh flowers and nicely-decorated sweets. But these flowers and sweets have less long-term appeal,’ said Dr Yang.