#27: Giving and Getting Good Gifts

Opinion Science

Dec 21 2020 • 45 mins

It’s that time of year when winter holidays send people on a buying spree as they collect gifts to give to every friend, family member, and acquaintance. And you’d think that after so many years of giving gifts for all sorts of holidays, we’d be pretty good at it. Right? Well, not according to research in psychology. In this episode, we explore the psychology of why giving to others is such a good thing to do, and also where gift givers go wrong. Along the way, we’ll pick up some tips for how to approach giving in a smarter, more effective way.

Many guests in this episode!

  • We hear from Laura and Bethany Sanders about childhood gifting go awry. Laura Sanders is a stand-up comedian and illustrator, so check out her work!
  • Dr. Lara Aknin is an associate professor of Social Psychology at Simon Fraser University. She studies what makes people happy.
  • Dr. Jeff Galak is an associate professor of Marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. He also runs the YouTube channel, Data Demystified.”
  • Dr. Julian Giviis an assistant professor of Marketing at West Virginia University's John Chambers College of Business and Economics. He studies gift-giving.

Research in this episode:

Part I: Why give to others? Lara Aknin and her colleagues found that college students were happier when giving money to other people vs. spending on themselves (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008). She has replicated this finding all over the world, with kids, and other populations (see Dunn et al., 2020).

Part II: How gift-givers and gift-recipients disagree.

A. Gift-givers focus on the moment of giving whereas recipients are thinking more long-term (Galak, Givi, & Williams (2016)

B. Gift-givers think price matters more than receivers do (Flynn & Adams, 2009)

C. Givers avoid repeatedly giving the same thing, but recipients don’t mind (Givi, 2020)

D. People opt to give sentimental gifts less often than receivers would prefer (Givi & Galak, 2017); giving something as a gift can also imbue it with sentimentality and make the affection for the gift last longer (Yang & Givi, 2015)

E. Just ask people what they want (Gino & Flynn, 2011)

F. Giver-centric gifts make people feel closer to each other, even though we think recipient-focused gifts are the most appropriate (Aknin & Human, 2015)

Check out my new audio course on Knowable: "The Science of Persuasion."

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