Many of our natural impulses turn out to be wrong. Psychological research can help us choose wisely.
On Christmas morning, a husband quietly apologizes to his wife that his presents are modest this year. Money is short. She boldly affirms that she loves the pajamas and sweater. Later, while the children are playing with their new toys, the husband reveals a final gift box in which the wife discovers a diamond necklace. She squeals in amazement.
This advertising drop isn’t just smart. It also feeds on five false beliefs that people commonly hold about what makes gift recipients happy. Fortunately, psychological and market research not only shows that these beliefs are wrong; It also provides guidance on choosing gifts that people will actually like.
Ignore the price first. Despite the share motto « ???? It is the thought that counts » ???? Gift givers think a lot of money to spend ???? on diamonds for example â ???? shows that you care. When researchers asked people to remember a gift they gave and then rate how much the recipients liked it, higher prices came with higher ratings. But when people gave the same reviews on a gift they received, the price was completely independent of the enjoyment.
Second, give gifts that are actually usable. Gift givers typically focus on how comfortable it would be to use the gift, but overlook how easily or frequently the gift is used. A husband could imagine his wife feeling like a million dollars in her diamonds, but ignores the fact that she rarely wears formal jewelry.
In an experiment showing this phenomenon, the researchers approached people in pairs who were in public. One person (10 feet from the other) completed a word search puzzle and learned that as a reward they could give their friend one of two gifts: a pen described as beautiful but too heavy for everyday use or a retractable pen that was easy to carry. Gift givers preferred the beautiful pen, but recipients were not only happier when they got the handy pen, they also rated it as the more thoughtful gift.
Givers may prefer the beautiful and the dramatic because they think abstractly about gifts: « What is a good gift? » In contrast, the recipients will imagine they are using it and therefore focus more on the benefits.
This is why people who buy gift cards for others often prefer luxury brands over everyday brands, but the preference is reversed when they buy for themselves. In fact, one study looked at the prices at which gift cards offered on eBay were resold and showed that people were willing to spend about $ 77 for a $ 100 gift card at a more expensive store (e.g.. B.. Bloomingdale’s), but would pay approx. $ 89 for a $ 100 gift card for an everyday business (ex. B.. Lowes ???? s).
Third, (and this is especially relevant during the pandemic), don’t worry if your gift isn’t ready to use. While it may feel strange to you, the recipients don’t mind waiting. In one experiment, the researchers asked people to compare different types of gifts: one was immediately appealing, like a dozen flowers in full bloom, or, for a similar price, a gift that would be more satisfying in the long run, like two dozen buds would bloom in a few days.
When people thought they were going to give the gift, they preferred the former, but others, when asked which one to receive, chose the latter. Another study showed a similar asymmetry for giving part of a gift. Givers didn’t like the idea of giving someone half the money to buy a high-end mixer and preferred to give a mid-priced model straight away. The recipients showed the opposite preference.
Fourth, give people what they ask for. Gift givers believe that the unexpected creates value because it shows thoughtfulness. The woman did not expect diamonds, but the husband knew that she would love them. But recipients actually think it is more thoughtful to give a gift that they requested. They see it as proof that the giver has granted and granted their wishes. If someone wants to be surprised, she can always tell you.
Fifth, give experiences, not things. Is that true even during the pandemic? Remember, people don’t mind waiting. Research over the past decade shows that experiences lead to more lasting satisfaction than new possessions: a family vacation is a better choice than this diamond necklace. But givers are suspicious of experiences because they worry that it is more likely that they will choose something that the recipient does not want. It’s a legitimate concern, but there is a simple solution: make sure there are choices. Instead of a massage, give a gift certificate to a spa that offers a range of services.
To be clear, all of this research doesn’t show that most of the time recipients hate the gifts they receive. But it shows that, on average, people could give better gifts. Why not?
We may not learn what makes a good gift because we rarely get valid feedback. Social convention dictates that you must admit that you like every gift you receive.
Jeff Galak, Professor of Marketing at Carnegie Mellon, and two colleagues offer a convincing, somewhat darker alternative: donors are actually a bit selfish. They prefer dramatic, expensive, and surprising gifts because they want to see the recipient’s delight. The recipient’s long-term pleasure cannot be observed and is therefore discounted.
After a rough year, we may particularly like to enjoy an expression of shocked delight on a recipient’s face. But it is time to put aside our own desires and do our best to anticipate theirs. This can bring longer lasting joy.
Daniel T. . Willingham (@DTWillingham) is Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia and author of The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. â ????
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