60-Second Science

Buyer Beware: Getting Gifts For Many Can Hinder Good Gift Decisions

When shopping for multiple people, gift-buyers try to vary the presents, rather than getting the best gift for each recipient. Allie Wilkinson reports.

Holiday shopping has its fair share of headaches—the crowds, the long lines and, of course, the stress of finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list. But it turns out that shopping for multiple people can make you a less thoughtful gift-giver. That’s according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research.[Mary Steffel and Robyn A. Le Boeuf, Overindividuation in Gift Giving: Shopping for Multiple Recipients Leads Givers to Choose Unique but Less Preferred Gifts]

Researchers conducted six experiments asking participants to shop for one person or multiple people. The study subjects were told the recipients’ preferences.

When shopping for multiple people, the gift-givers seemed intent on varying the presents, rather than getting the best gift for each recipient. This behavior is called “overindividuation” and arises from the desire to be thoughtful and treat each gift-getter as unique. Even if there was no way for two recipients to find out they got the same gift, the volunteers still varied the presents. Asking them to put special thought into their gifts only exacerbated overindividuation.

So how to make sure a gift is a sure-fire hit? The researchers suggest: buy your loved ones what they’d most likely get for themselves

—Allie Wilkinson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]


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