With Halloween behind us, it’s finally time to think about your Christmas gift shopping — and whether or not you’re going to fork out for fancy in-store wrapping.
Psychologists have found that the effort might not be worth it, as friends tend to like badly-wrapped presents more than ones that are packed to perfection.
The findings overturn conventional wisdom that people prefer to receive tokens that are elegantly presented.
Beautifully wrapped presents, they claim, create high expectations that the gift inside can struggle to live up to — a problem that more messy efforts do not face.
However, the same does not apply when giving gifts to acquaintances, who will view sloppy gift presentation as a sign that you do not value them.
Marketing expert Jessica Rixom of the University of Nevada, Reno and colleagues gave research participants gifts to unwrap that were either neatly or badly wrapped.
Each present contained a licensed basketball team logo mug, either for the Miami Heat, or for the Orlando Magic.
Participants in the study had been selected from fans of the Miami Heat — but not the Orlando Magic — making the mug of the former team the preferred gift.
The researchers then asked the participants a series of questions to determine how much they rated the gift that they had been given.
Professor Rixom and colleagues found that the participant showed more favourable attitudes towards the sloppily-wrapped gifts — regardless of whether or not the mug they received was from their favourite team.
‘When we receive a gift from a friend, we use the wrapping as a cue about the gift inside and form expectations,’ said Professor Rixom.
‘If it’s wrapped neatly, we set high expectations, and it’s hard for the gift to live up to those expectations.’
To confirm their findings, the team conducted a second test in which participants were shown pictures of either a neatly or poorly wrapped present, about which they were asked to describe their expectations.
After opening this gift — a pair of earbuds — participants then rated to what extent the gift had met their expectations.
As with the previous experiment, the researchers found that expectations were raised by the presents with the neater gift wrapping — but they received a less favourable reception on being opened.
‘If someone is questioning whether a gift is desirable for a friend and they try to make it more appealing by wrapping it well, this strategy may backfire in the end,’ Professor Rixom said.
‘On the other hand, it may be wise to go the extra mile with wrapping when giving a gift to an acquaintance,’ she warned.
In a third experiment, the team found that acquaintances, unlike friends, use the quality of your gift wrapping as an indicator of how much your value you place on your relationship with them.
As a consequence, they see well-wrapped presents as a compliment — one which increases the chance they will respond well to the gift within.
The full findings of the study were published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.