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Qualitative Steps toward an Expanded Model of Anxiety in Gift‐Giving



Previous investigations of interpersonal gift giving have uncovered feelings of anxiety among gift givers. The anxious moments that givers often experience stand in stark contrast to the festive atmospheres and joyous celebrations that surround many gift occasions. Why is gift-giving such a torturous endeavor for so many people? What conditions coincide with the anxious moments that givers often experience? What factors drive this anxiety? These questions are explored in this article, which develops a model based on a self-presentational theory and two sets of qualitative data. The results show that givers become anxious when they are highly motivated to elicit desired reactions from their recipients but are pessimistic about their prospects of success. This article identifies characteristics of recipients, givers, and gift situations that appear to precipitate these anxious moments. Copyright 2000 by the University of Chicago.
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Qualitative Steps toward an Expanded Model of
Anxiety in Gift-Giving
Previous investigations of interpersonal gift giving have uncovered feelings of anx-
iety among gift givers. The anxious moments that givers often experience stand
in stark contrast to the festive atmospheres and joyous celebrations thatsurround
many gift occasions. Why is gift-giving such a torturous endeavor for so many
people? What conditions coincide with the anxious moments that givers often
experience? What factors drive this anxiety? These questions are exploredin this
article, which develops a model based on a self-presentational theory andtwo sets
of qualitative data. The results show that givers become anxious when they are
highly motivated to elicit desired reactions from their recipients but are pessimistic
about their prospects of success. This article identifies characteristicsof recipients,
givers, and gift situations that appear to precipitate these anxious moments.
Anxiety in gift-giving is so prevalent that a recent
popular press article asked, “Why must a ritual that
we believe should be relaxed and joyful be so tortured?”
(Vreeland 1998, p. 39). The importance of this question is
underscored by the surprising negativity that peopleexpress
about gift selection (Otnes, Kim, and Lowrey 1992),
presentation (McGrath, Sherry, and Levy 1993), and
disposition (Sherry, McGrath, and Levy 1992). Perhaps
equally surprising is the dearth of research aimed specifically
at understanding gifting anxiety, especially its antecedents.
Sherry, McGrath, and Levy (1993, p. 237) assert that “gifts
create internal stress by requiring an examination of the
canons of propriety and a negotiation of identity: imputation
and resistance of inauthentic versions of the self are critical
elements of this stress.” This assertion implies that the
human urge to manage impressions lies at the heartof gifting
anxiety. It also suggests that gifting anxiety is a form of
social anxiety, which stems from “the prospect or presence
of interpersonal evaluation in real or imagined social
settings” (Schlenker and Leary 1982, p. 642).
Despite the insights of Sherry et al. (1993) and others,
most notably Otnes, Lowrey, and Kim (1993), about the
nature and sources of gifting anxiety, there is still much
to learn about the topic. The primary objective of this
article is to extend prior gift-giving research that has not
*David Wooten is a visiting assistant professor in the Marketing De-
partment at the Business School of the University of Michigan. The author
thanks Dawn Canfora, Denita Grewer, Joe Grosso,Shalonda Hunter,Chek-
esha Kidd, Jessica VanTine, and Stacy Wood for their assistance with data
analysis. He also thanks David Jamison, Rich Lutz, Norma Mendoza, Cele
Otnes, Julie Ruth, Alan Sawyer, Deborah Triese, Stacy Wood, three re-
viewers, and the associate editor for their helpful comments on earlier
versions of this manuscript.
sufficiently theorized the experience of gifting anxiety. A
second objective is to broaden our understanding of the
antecedents of gifting anxiety by exploring factors that
precipitate anxious moments. A qualitative investigation,
which uses the self-presentational basis of social anxiety
as a theoretical guidepost, was conducted to accomplish
these two objectives.
A few explanations have been offered for the anxious
moments uncovered in previous investigations. Other in-
sights about gift-giving in general may also be relevant. For
example, obligations to give and reciprocate may spark ten-
sions (Mauss 1954). Moreover, the tendency among givers
to compare gifts and note disparities may also produce neg-
ative emotional outcomes (Belk and Coon 1993). Disparities
arise if givers and recipients do not establish parameters
before they exchange gifts. The absence of guidelines re-
duces the probability that each party will have similar ex-
pectations. Others have recognized that differences between
givers and recipients can frustrate givers. For example,
Green and Alden (1988) cited differences between individ-
ual goals and group expectations as sources of anxiety
among givers. Sherry et al. (1993) cited the unattainable
expectations that recipients impose upon givers as a possible
source of gifting anxiety. Expectations figure prominently
in givers’ anxious moments because of the consequences
incurred by those who violate them. Inappropriate gifts
cause embarrassment, threaten social ties, and leave lasting
impressions (Sherry et al. 1993). Hence, self-enhancement
may be a by-product, if not a goal, of gifting activities.
Since givers fret about meeting expectations, it is useful
to understand factors that impede their efforts. Belk’s (1979)
discussion of the communicative function of gift-giving of-
fers relevant insights. He argues that, as a medium for con-
veying self-traits, gift-giving is highly susceptible to en-
coding and decoding errors. His analysis implies that both
givers (encoding) and recipients (decoding) can impede
givers’ efforts. However, as Otnes et al. (1992) havepointed
out, givers often blame recipients for their woes. “Difficult”
recipients have expectations that are either hard to meet (e.g.,
picky ones) or hard to determine (e.g., unfamiliar ones).
They are problematic because they thwart givers’ attempts
to enact desired social roles (Otnes et al. 1993).
In summary, givers know that gifts serve a communi-
cative function, so they often choose their messages (i.e.,
gifts) carefully, if not strategically. According to Sherry
(1983, p. 164), gift-giving requires “preparation of the gift
and self in the service of impression management.” Their
efforts are often accompanied by pressures to meet lofty
expectations. Despite the fact that these pressures can be
self-imposed, givers often blame recipients for their woes.
Their concerns about how gifts are interpreted and their
frustrations about their perceived lack of control over these
interpretations suggest that scholarship on self-presentation
and social anxiety can help illuminate what has been called
a “dark side” of giving.
The self-presentational basis of social anxiety posits that
people become anxious when they are motivated to make
desired impressions but are doubtful of success (Schlenker
and Leary 1982). For the present research, this theory pro-
vided a tentative framework to guide further elaboration of
Sherry et al.’s (1993) insight about self-presentation and
gifting anxiety. Its adoption for use in this study resulted
from an iterative process of synthesizing library research
with primary data.
According to Schlenker and Leary (1982), social anxiety
(SA) can be defined as an excessive concern about the pros-
pect of being evaluated by others. Leary (1983) conceptu-
alized it as a multiplicative function of two arguments, im-
pression motivation (M) and impression efficacy (r).
Expressed symbolically, , where Mrepre-SA = M(1 2r)
sents the actor’s level of motivation to make a desired im-
pression and rrepresents his or her subjective probability
of success. Variables that increase Mshould lead to greater
anxiety as long as rdoes not approach unity (i.e., certainty).
Conversely, variables that decrease rshould increase anx-
iety as long as Mdoes not approach zero.
Many efforts to identify and test variables that affect M
and rhave been undertaken (see Schlenker and Leary [1982]
for a review). However, five major factors appear to account
for the effects of these variables. The salience of interper-
sonal evaluation and the subjective worth of self-presenta-
tional outcomes are two factors that underlie the effects of
variables that trigger M(Schlenker and Leary 1982). As
evaluative salience increases, actors are likely to be more
concerned about evaluative outcomes, more inclined to en-
gage in impression monitoring, and more socially anxious.
Likewise, as interpersonal stakes increase, actors are likely
to be more concerned about their performances, more eager
to shape interpersonal perceptions, and more socially anx-
ious. Interpersonal stakes tend to be high when targets of
impressions are in positions to mediate valued rewards(e.g.,
approval) or when interactions evoke desired images. For
instance, people who consider themselves “romantics” may
stake their reputations when they choose Valentine’s Day
gifts. High impression motivation need not result in efforts
to convey favorable impressions. It merely increases the
probability that actors will try to convey desired ones. In
fact, conveying unfavorable impressions is sometimes ben-
eficial (Leary and Kowalski 1995).
Three factors underlie the effects of variables that influ-
ence r: (1) degree of uncertainty, (2) perceived self-presen-
tational demands, and (3) perceived self-presentational re-
sources. In general, rtends to be low when people are unsure
how to behave or doubt they have the resources to meet
their self-presentational demands. The distinction between
perceived and actual demands and resources is relevant be-
cause some people systematically distort their demands and
resources. Anxiety is triggered by the perception that one’s
self-presentational resources are insufficient to meet his or
her demands.
In summary, the social-anxiety model adopted here posits
that people become anxious when they are motivated to
make desired impressions but are doubtful of success. Psy-
chologists have identified and tested antecedents of this
model in a variety of contexts, including some in which
self-presentational concerns have led to dysfunctional be-
haviors (see Leary and Kowalski [1995] for a review). How-
ever, until now, the model has not been used to explore the
seemingly paradoxical emotions felt by gift donors. Such
an exploration might uncover antecedents that have not
emerged in other contexts.
Data Collection
Descriptions of anxious giving moments were obtained
by using two complementary methods of data collec-
tion—critical incident surveys of undergraduate students
and semi-structured inter views of nonstudent adults. Critical
incident surveys were administered to 66 female and 49
male undergraduates in order to capture their anxious giving
moments (cf. Mick and DeMoss 1990). Students were ex-
pected to be especially susceptible to gift-giving anxiety
because they tend to have transitory relationships, limited
giving experiences, and scarce financial resources.
Surveys were administered on two occasions. Some re-
spondents were surveyed in mid-December in order to ex-
ploit the salience of Christmas gifting activities. Others were
surveyed in early February in order to capitalize on the
recency of Christmas gift presentation and the salience of
Valentine’s Day gift selection. All respondents received a
booklet containing open-ended questions about a previous
occasion for which they were anxious about selecting or
presenting gifts. Fifty-eight respondents were asked tofocus
on gift selection and 57 focused on gift presentation. All
115 respondents were prompted to elaborate on their stories
with details about how the recipients, gift occasions, and
they themselves might have contributed to their anxiety. The
descriptions from both groups were typed into a single data
file because the two groups had similar concerns.
analysis revealed that members of both groups were anxious
about forthcoming reactions from recipients and others who
might be present when their gifts are unveiled. This finding
is telling because it reinforces the notion that reactions to
gifts are crucial to givers (Schwartz 1967), and it is con-
sistent with a view of social anxiety as an anticipatory re-
sponse to real or imagined social predicaments (Leary and
Kowalski 1995).
Since many undergraduate students lack the breadth of
experiences that come with age, matrimony, and parenthood,
supplementary data were obtained from nonstudent adults.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 female
and six male employees at two universities. The dispro-
portionate number of females is justifiable given extant find-
ings that women usually assume responsibility for household
gift-giving (Fischer and Arnold 1990; McGrath 1995;
Sherry and McGrath 1989). The interviews were conducted
on campus and focused on recent gifting experiences, at-
titudes toward gift shopping, giving motives, and previous
giving occasions during which respondents were anxious.
Informants were compensated with $10 and a small gift.
Data Analysis
A modified constant comparative method was used to
analyze the data (cf. Strauss and Corbin 1990). Both sets
of data were coded and analyzed as new data were collected.
The interview guide was revised throughout the interview-
ing process to reflect learning from initial interviews, ex-
plore unanswered questions, and identify new issues. The
critical incidence survey was revised after pretesting but was
not altered after subsequent administrations.
Substantive codes, which “conceptualize the empirical
substance of the area of research” (Glaser 1978, p. 55), were
identified during initial readings of the data. These emergent
codes represent characteristics of givers, recipients, and sit-
uations that were frequently mentioned in research partic-
ipants’ oral and written accounts of anxious gift-giving mo-
ments. Initial codes were revised based on subsequent
readings of the data, input from research assistants, and
questions that arose during the review process.
After substantive codes were developed, their theoretical
Notable exceptions included respondents who cited their choices of gag
gifts (e.g., a vibrator) or intimate apparel (e.g., lingerie or boxers) as causes
of anxiety during gift selection. They were concerned about reactions from
people present at the point of purchase. This concern did not emerge among
those who focused on gift presentation.
connections to gifting anxiety were explored. Since
Schlenker and Leary’s (1982) social anxiety model was used
to guide this exploration, its constructs (i.e., impression mo-
tivation, impression efficacy, and their five major antece-
dents) were adopted as tentative theoretical codes. Theo-
retical codes conceptualize how substantive codes are linked
together as part of an integrated theory (Glaser 1978). Fol-
lowing Strauss and Corbin’s (1990) procedures for extend-
ing existing theories into other substantive domains, these
a priori codes were checked against the data, alternative
codes were explored, and initial codes were revised. How-
ever, no additional theoretical codes emerged, and only mi-
nor revisions were made to the initial ones. For instance,
the code that was initially called “impression motivation”
was relabeled as “reaction motivation” because givers focus
on recipients’ reactions (Schwartz 1967) and rarely disclose
impression motives (Lowrey, Otnes, and Robbins 1996).
Moreover, the terms “self-presentational” and “impression”
that appeared in initial coding labels were replaced with
“gifting” in order to account for concerns that are arguably
not self-presentational.
Intercode connections were explored independently by the
author and two research assistants. After differences were
discussed and resolved, the author reread each case to de-
termine a common “story line” across cases (Strauss and
Corbin 1990). Member checking was used to enhance cred-
ibility of the final interpretation (Lincoln and Guba 1985).
Interviewees received copies of their transcripts and a pre-
liminary version of the story line. Some expressed discom-
fort with their motives being described as self-presenta-
tional, but all agreed that their anxiety usually coincided
with concerns about eliciting desired reactions from
Story Line
The resulting story line is that givers become anxious
when they are pessimistic about forthcoming reactions to
their gifts. Just as the social anxiety model asserts, anxiety
in gift-giving arises when givers are highly motivated to
elicit desired responses from recipients but doubtful of doing
so. High reaction motivation and low gifting efficacy appear
to factor in many of the anxious moments that were reported
in this study. The following excerpts are illustrative:
I was shopping for a new boyfriend. I felt nervous because
I wasn’t sure what to get. What kind of message it would
send. I didn’t want to get too much or too little. I didn’t want
him to think that I liked him too much and scare him away.
It was a Christmas gift. I didn’t feel uneasy about the oc-
casion. I just didn’t know what to get…I’m not usually nerv-
ous about giving gifts. I’m usually pretty good about picking
things I know they will like. If I’m shopping for someone I
don’t really know, I sometimes don’t know what to get, but
unless it’s supposed to be meaningful, I don’t get nervous.
(Female, survey 15)
I was trying to find the “perfect” gift. I was anxious when
trying to select the gift. It was a Christmas gift for this girl,
a friend of mine who I really liked. I wanted a gift that was
nice, showed that I had taken a great deal of time to select
it, and let her know that I thought she was special without
pushing her away or making her feel awkward. All of these
factors floated through my head as I was trying to shop….
It was a Christmas/“Why don’t you and I start dating?” gift.
I was aware of the signals that would be sent and worried if
they would be received. I wanted to show that she was special
without being pushy and scaring her away. It was a gamble
because she was a good friend and I didn’t want to lose that.
And I thought she deserved to have a nice, completely un-
expected gift. I was nervous when I gave it to her and before
she reacted…. She was beautiful, intelligent, and very com-
passionate. She was an artist/poet, which I was not, so it was
difficult to get a read as to what to get her. I knew she would
appreciate the thought more than anything else, but I’m not
creative enough to make a gift. There was a danger that
something I thought was sweet and romantic would mean
something different to her. Even though I had afemale friend
go with me to help shop, I felt as though I were flying blind….
I guess the times I’m nervous about buying gifts for others
is when I’m trying to get something in return. (Male, survey
The female respondent was afraid of overspending her
resources during the early stages of her relationship because
it might send the wrong message and scare her new boy-
friend away. Indeed, previous research has found that gifts
can potentially alter relationship trajectories (Ruth, Otnes,
and Brunel 1999). The young woman’s motivation to elicit
a desired reaction from her recipient was high because the
stakes were high—she could lose him. In addition, her gift-
ing efficacy was low. The newness of the relationship and
her unfamiliarity with the recipient made her uncertainabout
what to choose and pessimistic about choosing appropri-
ately. She admitted that she is not always sure about her
gift choices, but she is only nervous when it is supposed to
be meaningful.
The male respondent described his task as a gamble in
which he stood to gain a romantic partner but risked losing
a friend. The high stakes involved in the encounter fueled
his efforts to elicit a desired response from her and con-
tributed to his anxiety about the task. He was pessimistic
about eliciting the desired reaction from her because she
was so different from him and he questioned his gifting
skills. Despite the help of a mutual female friend, he was
still not sure. The uncertainty bothered him only because
he had a lot to gain or lose as a result of his gift choice.
Like other anxious givers, both respondents worried about
how recipients would react to their gifts and how the gifts
would affect their relationships. Both were unsure how to
elicit desired reactions from their recipients. This uncertainty
was problematic only because the recipients were in posi-
tions to mediate valued social rewards. The opportunity to
get something in return was not the only factor to motivate
givers, just as uncertainty was not the only one to discourage
them. Five factors that affect reaction motivation or gifting
efficacy are discussed below, along with the giver,recipient,
and situation characteristics that coincide with them.
interconnections suggested by the data are summarized in
Figure 1.
Antecedents and Consequences of High
Interpersonal Stakes
Consistent with the social anxiety model, many anxious
gifting experiences arise when high interpersonal stakes are
involved. High stakes motivate givers to succeed and make
them anxious about giving. Two factors, recipient influence
and collective situations, shape perceptions of the interper-
sonal stakes involved in gift transactions.
Influence. Influence refers to a quality of recipients to
be able and willing to bestow valued rewards upon givers.
Recipients have influence insofar as their reactions matter
to givers. The most influential ones, however, are in posi-
tions to mediate valued rewards and are expected to vary
their behavior with the quality of gifts. There are two im-
portant points about influence. First, importance to givers
is necessary but not sufficient for recipient influence. Sec-
ond, recipients have influence inasmuch as they are deemed
likely to wield it. The following excerpt highlights the rel-
ative powerlessness of a giver who faced an influential re-
I was very concerned with the reaction the person I was
giving the gift would have. It was very important to me that
he liked it. I felt like the gift could affect the way he felt
about me. I was more anxious after I bought it because I
wanted him to like it so much. I was buying a gift for a
boyfriend I had in high school. Looking back, he made me
nervous because of how much I thought I liked him. I thought
if I got him something he didn’t like, it would reflect on me.
It shouldn’t have mattered, it should have been the thought
that counted, but it wasn’t exactly like that in this relationship.
He was a hard person to shop for so that made me even more
uneasy, plus the fact that now I know, I didn’t know him as
well as I thought I did. I was naı¨ve. In a way, I probably did
know him, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been nervous.
Knowing him, the gift probably did affect his feelings toward
me. This is why I was uneasy. (Female, survey 17)
This respondent’s fears were due in part to her desire to
avoid a negative reaction from an influential recipient. Her
fears highlight the power that recipients have when givers
care a lot about their reactions. Her belief that her anxiety
Categories of “giver,” “recipient,” and “situation” characteristics are
analytically separated here for purposes of exposition. However,they were
sometimes interrelated. For instance, recipients were perceived as affluent
because they had greater material wealth than did their givers. Affluence
was not necessarily an enduring characteristic of the recipient.
.—All effects are positive unless otherwise noted. The letters
, and
denote characteristics of givers, recipients, and situations, respectively.
stemmed from the high probability that her gift would affect
their relationship suggests that reaction motivation and re-
cipient power are functions of the interpersonal stakes in-
volved in the transaction. Although romantic partners me-
diate valued rewards (Leary and Kowalski 1995), they are
not the only recipients who do. Close friends, favorite rel-
atives, and in-laws were also deemed important to givers
and likely to give feedback that could affect givers’
Collectivity. Collectivity refers to the extent to which
multiple participants are included in salient aspects of the
gifting experience. Baby showers are examples of collective
occasions because gifts are usually unveiled in front of many
people at these events (Betteridge 1985; Green and Alden
1988). Givers in the present study perceived high stakes
involved with occasions of this nature. For example, one
respondent recalled his anxiety about selecting a Christmas
gift for his girlfriend (male, survey 25). He said, “It was
our first Christmas together, so I was very unsure of what
to get her. I knew she would be opening my gift to her in
front of her whole family, so I was also nervous of what
they would think.” Although his anxiety was partly due to
his uncertainty about what to get for this novel situation,
the size of his audience was also a factor. Another inter-
viewee, Blanche, echoed his concerns about reactions from
members of a large group when she emphasized the im-
portance of being “well represented” before groups of co-
workers at baby showers and going away parties (interview
3). These findings are consistent with social impact theory,
which posits that social tension increases with audience size
(Latane 1981). Actors become anxious when large audiences
are present because potential gains and losses vary with the
number of witnesses to a performance (Leary and Kowalski
Antecedents and Consequences of Evaluative
Consistent with the self-presentational basis of social anx-
iety, evaluative salience seems to heighten gifting anxiety
by motivating givers to try harder to elicit desired reactions
from recipients. Such was the case with Dorothy, who was
frustrated after numerous attempts to find the right gift for
her husband’s picky grandmother. The more she tried, the
more she failed and the harder she tried on the next occasion.
After each unsuccessful attempt she endured the recipient’s
candid assessment of the gift.
Many times I would go on my husband’s suggestion, well,
you know, why don’t we get her a nightgown, and another
year we tried like a sweater, and we tried, I got her, because
she drank tea, she’s English, I got her a basket with home-
made teas, and it didn’t always work. And she used to think
out loud. So, she’d tell you. (Dorothy, interview 14)
When givers expect to face critics, they craft their per-
formances carefully. In fact, many anxious moments seem
to arise when characteristics of situations or recipients fuel
givers’ concerns about being evaluated. Two such charac-
teristics are collective situations and selective recipients.
Collectivity. The number of people present when a gift
is unveiled sparks gifting anxiety not only by raising the
stakes but also by affecting evaluative salience. When mul-
tiple participants result in multiple gifts, concerns about the
comparative worth of gifts emerge. For example, Rose noted
that the price of her gift paled in comparison with the ex-
pensive gifts given by others at a baby shower (interview
1). Moreover, Ricky identified the tendency of people to
compare gifts as a problem that arises when many gifts are
given (interview 16). However, he denied that outcomes of
such comparisons mattered to him. Ricky’s denial notwith-
standing, the presence of multiple givers sparks anxiety by
facilitating comparisons and increasing evaluative salience.
This leads to high motivation to elicit desired reactionsfrom
others and excessive concerns about evaluative outcomes.
Selectivity. Otnes et al. (1992) uncovered nine reasons
why givers call recipients difficult. Two of them, having
limited wants and appearing unappreciative, relate to selec-
tivity. People who are selective combine careful inspection
with exacting standards. They heighten gifting anxiety by
increasing evaluative salience and affecting perceived gift-
ing demands. Both effects are evident in the following
The girl I bought the gift for is very spoiled. She has a lot
of material possessions and I thought that she would look
down upon the make-up bag that I chose for her. I was afraid
that she would not be grateful for the gift. I bought her a
Gap black tote for travelling and make-up storage. I was
uneasy because of who was receiving the gift, not because
I did not personally like the gift that I chose. Also the gift
that I got was for her 21st birthday, and I thought I should’ve
gotten her something more sentimental. I loved the gift, but
I was afraid that she wouldn’t like it. I was afraid that she
would think the gift was too cheap or not special enough. It
was for Denise, a spoiled, materialistic, ambitious, and
strong-willed girl. She’s the girl who has everything and
wants the best of everything for herself. I was afraid she’d
think I didn’t spend enough money on her. The gift was a
black tote bag from the Gap. It’s a great, useful gift that I
would’ve loved to [receive], but not something extraordinary.
(Female, survey 112)
The recipient’s selectivity is exemplified by the giver’s
description of her as a girl who wants the best of everything.
The giver’s belief that her gift would be evaluated and her
concern about evaluative outcomes are reflected in her fear
that Denise will discount the value of her gift. Despite her
unflattering remarks about Denise, she did not mention giv-
ing nothing as a viable option. Perhaps the social costs of
shirking her obligation to give exceeded the emotional costs
of trying to please a selective recipient.
Antecedents and Consequences of Perceived
Gifting Demands
Previous studies (e.g., Sherry et al. 1993) suggest that
pressures to meet elusive expectations cause anxiety. These
expectations or demands cause anxiety by affecting givers’
subjective probabilities of achieving their goals. Seven fac-
tors that influence perceived gifting demands were
Collectivity. Collectivity, again, refers to involvement
of multiple participants in salient aspects of the gifting ex-
perience. If additional participants lead to additional gifts,
then comparisons across gifts are facilitated. Such compar-
isons may increase perceived gifting demands because
givers not only worry about their gifts being good enough
to elicit desired reactions, but they also worry about their
gifts being as good as those of others. This concern was
most evident in the episode reported by a female respondent
who participated in a Secret Santa exchange with friends in
her dormitory (survey 89). The threat of competitionfueled
her anxiety by alerting her to a higher standard. In fact, she
was so preoccupied with meeting this higher standard that
she exceeded her spending guidelines in order to do so.
If multiple participants mean multiple recipients per giver
(e.g., Christmas gifts), then concerns about equipollence of-
ten arise. Equipollence refers to the extent to which multiple
recipients are treated in an egalitarian manner by givers
(Lowrey et al. 1996). Concerns about equipollence frustrate
givers by imposing equality constraints on gifts to different
recipients. One respondent faced this constraint when he
purchased birthday gifts for two of his college buddies
(male, survey 7). He spent $35 on one friend but planned
to spend only $25 on the other. However, the two friends
celebrated their birthdays jointly, so he thought their gifts
should be equivalent. He defined equivalence in terms of
price, while others define it in terms of quantity of gifts
(Lowrey et al. 1996). Such constraints complicate gift shop-
ping by reducing givers’ degrees of freedom. Hence, their
demands heighten, their outlooks dampen, and their anxiety
Selectivity. As was mentioned previously, selectivity is
a characteristic ascribed to those who combine careful in-
spection with exacting standards. It affects gifting anxiety
by increasing evaluative salience and perceived gifting de-
mands. The idea that selective recipients influence perceived
gifting demands is evident in an episode where the giver
was pessimistic about the recipient’s reaction to a gift even
though the giver liked it (female, survey 112). She worried
that the gift was not special enough for someone who is
spoiled and materialistic like her recipient. Selective recip-
ients are especially problematic for givers who attempt to
enact the “pleaser” role. Pleasers are givers whose objective
is to select gifts that recipients will like (Otnes et al. 1993).
A few givers contradicted popular wisdom on the effect
of selective recipients on gifting demands. They perceived
high gifting demands when they shopped for recipients who
were not at all selective. For example, one respondent was
reportedly anxious about buying an anniversary gift for his
parents (male, survey 14). He complained that they are so
easily satisfied that almost any gift is acceptable to them.
However, since they express gratitude for everything, it is
hard to tell when something is really desirable to them. The
gist of his argument is that he gets no satisfaction from
having a gift accepted by someone who is unlikely to reject
it. Like others who sought extremely positive reactions from
indiscriminate recipients, he appeared to be overwhelmed
by the demands of finding a gift that will elicit more than
just the typical appreciative response.
Perfectionism. Perfectionism refers to the propensity
of some givers to set extremely high standards for them-
selves and be displeased with anything less. This propensity
is displayed in the following excerpt:
It’s very rare for me to like the gift that I’m giving. During
Christmas, only about a quarter of the gifts I give are anxiety-
free. Unless I’ve found the perfect gift, one that I’m positive
they’ll like, then I’d rather not give a gift at all. I guess I’m
weird because I know that it sucks to pretend to like the gift
you’ve gotten when you really don’t. So I always want them
to truly like the gift, so unless I’m 100 percent positive they
will, I’m uneasy. (Female, survey 102)
This giver’s perfectionism is exemplified by her assertion
that she would rather not give a gift than to give one that
is not perfect. Since perfectionists impose high demands
upon themselves, they are likely to be anxious about at-
taining them. These demands, such as finding the perfect
gift with 100 percent certainty, and their consequences, such
as rarely having an anxiety-free Christmas, were apparent
in her remarks. Her frustrations are also evident in her opin-
ion that “it sucks to pretend to like the gift you’ve gotten
when you really don’t.” In a few cases, perfectionism co-
incided with desires to stand out and be recognized. These
were cases in which demands were clearly linked to im-
pression motives. For example, one respondent attributed
her anxiety to her desires to be the one who gives the unique
gift (female, survey 29). She invests a lot of thought and
effort in choosing gifts and she wants everyone to know it.
If her efforts are not singled out, then she is disappointed.
Perfectionists like her often put such unreasonable demands
on themselves that they could not possibly hope to attain
them. Hence, they tend to be pessimistic about their recip-
ients’ reactions and anxious about gift-giving.
Importance. Several givers reported being anxious
about giving gifts for special occasions. One criterion for
an occasion to be special is that it is perceived as being
important to the recipient. Rites of passage (e.g., weddings)
and other milestones (e.g., silver anniversaries) meet this
criterion. Important occasions spark gifting anxiety because
they are usually accompanied by high gifting demands. Such
demands were imposed upon a respondent who was told by
his parents to buy “something nice” to commemorate the
twenty-first birthday of a female friend of the family (male,
survey 93). He indicated that he never gave her a nice gift
before. In fact, he did not plan to do anything more than
“get a card and something inexpensive and fun,” until his
parents told him to get a nice gift. Like other participants
in this study, he recognized the importance of the twenty-
first birthday as a rite of passage into full-fledged adulthood.
However, unlike others who understood that demands in-
crease with the importance of the occasion, this giver had
to be told. He did not describe the demand to give a nice
gift as an unattainable one, but he felt that it was in conflict
with another goal. How can he give her a nice gift without
giving her the wrong impression? The increased demands
associated with an important occasion contributed to his
concerns about his recipient’s reaction and his anxiety about
the situation.
Formality. Formality, which refers to the degree to
which events are rigidly ceremonious, sparks anxiety by
influencing perceived gifting demands. This influence oc-
curs in two ways. First, the strict rules associated withformal
occasions spark fears of rule violations or improprieties. For
example, one respondent was afraid of choosing an inade-
quate gift for a formal baby shower (female, survey 43).
Her fears intensified after she received a copy of the pro-
gram. She was afraid of failing to meet the demands for
such a formal occasion and concerned about how others
would react to her failure. Second, formality affects per-
ceived gifting demands by signaling the importance of the
occasion. For example, one respondent was anxious about
his parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary celebration (male, sur-
vey 79). Since he and his parents do not usually exchange
gifts, he did not know if a gift was appropriate for this
occasion. However, he decided to deviate from household
norms when he realized that the affair would be catered.
Hence, the formality of the affair provided a cue that the
event was important enough to for him to exceed his pre-
vious efforts.
Affluence. Affluence is defined in terms of material
prosperity. The notion that affluent recipients are difficult
was suggested by Cheal (1987) and is rooted in the rhetorical
question of what to buy a person who has everything. The
problem of buying gifts for affluent recipients stems from
the perception that their needs are so few as to render im-
probable the task of identifying one. Such recipients are
especially likely to impede givers’ performance of the pro-
vider role, which involves choosing gifts to fulfill perceived
needs (Otnes et al. 1993). Consequently, givers must expend
considerable effort to identify an unfulfilled need or adopt
another role. In either case, higher perceived demands, lower
gifting efficacy, and higher anxiety are likely consequences.
The frustrations of a giver who faced the demands of pur-
chasing a gift for an affluent recipient are expressed in the
following remarks:
For my friend’s birthday in January, we bought her some
fish! This girl has three closets full of clothes and five boxes
of shoes, so we wanted to get her something shedidn’t have!
I felt nervous and anxious about giving this gift because I
wasn’t sure how she would take it! The gift was for her
twentieth birthday. We wanted her to like the fish. She is a
good friend of mine! She always goes out of her way to get
me great gifts and I wanted to do the same for her. I was
nervous that I would not! (Female, survey 98)
She wanted to give her friend a gift that she did not
already have, so she bought a gift that her friend did not
need and may not have wanted. The recipient’s status as
one who has everything (e.g., three closets full of clothes
and five boxes of shoes) contributed to the giver’s anxious
moment. The intensity of her feelings is evident in her mul-
tiple mentions of her nervousness and her frequent use of
exclamation marks to punctuate her sentences.
Mutuality. Mutuality refers to the expectation that a
gifting situation will involve simultaneous reciprocity. Val-
entine’s Day celebrations are usually mutual situations be-
cause they typically involve a pair of individuals exchanging
gifts at roughly the same time. Mutuality sparks gifting anx-
iety by influencing gifting demands. The following example
is illustrative:
For Christmas, my friends and I did a “Secret Santa” gift
exchange. We set a price range of $10–$20. I drew the name
of the person whom I think highest of. Shortly thereafter, I
accidentally overheard that she had drawn my name. I wanted
to purchase something useful and practical, because she does
not have a lot of money, but I also wanted something that
would be fun. It was very difficult to find something that
would fit her personality. I also worried that other people
would have better gifts for their recipients or, worse, she
would have a nicer gift to give me. I finally chose a gift, but
it was $24 over the agreed limit. I then worried that I would
make the others uncomfortable because their gifts were not
worth as much as mine. (Female, survey 89)
Many factors contributed to her anxiety, but her tension
was exacerbated by her mutual giving relationship with the
recipient. When she discovered that her Secret Santa was
the person who would receive a gift from her, the compe-
tition began. The threat of being outdone by her financially
constrained recipient was even worse than the possibility of
being bested by others. Consequently, she exploited her ad-
vantage over the recipient by spending more than her friend
could afford. Her desire to avoid losing face was so intense
that she failed to consider the consequences of violating the
spending limit until after she accomplished her other goal.
“I then worried that I would make the others uncomfortable
because their gifts were not worth as much as mine” (em-
phasis added). This episode suggests that mutual giving
sparks anxiety by fueling competitive demands.
Antecedents and Consequences of Uncertainty
Uncertainty was present in many accounts of gifting anx-
iety. Givers who do not have a script to guide their behaviors
tend to be doubtful of eliciting desired reactions andanxious
about their gifting experiences. For example, Cindy felt this
uncertainty, doubt, and anxiety when she was trying to de-
cide upon a gift for her son’s teacher.
I mean, I’m stressed out about getting my son’s teacher a
gift, and I was real worried about that because I didn’t know
her at all. I mean, I don’t know anything about her. I just
wanted her to have something. And I was thinking I could
get an ink pad, or this or that. And I ended up getting a real
nice bath soap. But I was really worried that she might think
this is silly, or this is a stupid gift, or you know, it’s not
enough for what she does. (Cindy, interview 12)
Cindy was distressed because she did not know what to
give her son’s teacher and she was concerned about the
teacher’s reaction. Although unfamiliarity with the recipient
was a major source of her uncertainty, it was not the only
cause of uncertainty. Four factors that arouse anxiety by
contributing to uncertainty and doubts were identified.
Mutuality. Again, mutuality refers to the expectation
that a gifting situation will involve simultaneousreciprocity.
In addition to affecting gifting demands, it creates uncer-
tainty. Belk (1979) addressed the difficulties associatedwith
simultaneous reciprocity versus sequential reciprocity. He
suggested that the risk of one-sided giving is greater with
the former than the latter. Many givers desireto avoid either
end of giving disparities, but they may not be sure how to
do so when giving and receiving occur simultaneously. The
following excerpt is illustrative:
I was nervous that my gift would not be well received. What
if he didn’t like it or didn’t think it was a good idea? More
importantly, there were no guidelines set for our gifts, so
what if my gift was too much or too little in comparison to
what he gives me? For me, if I don’t have to see the person
open the gift then I feel better because if I do have to see it
then I always feel as if they are just pretending that they like
it, unless it’s something that I know they want or have asked
for…. He doesn’t go to college and he has a job making
about $35,000 a year so I was worried that he was going to
give me a really nice gift, and I can only afford so much
because I’m on scholarship. (Female, survey 102)
Like others, this respondent equated nice gifts with ex-
pensive ones. The focus on the monetary value of gifts
reveals the importance of avoiding price disparities. How-
ever, people were also aware of disparities in time or effort
devoted to gift selection. The notion that people notice and
lament disparities between what they give and receive is
evident in the above excerpt and has been suggested in
previous research (e.g., Belk and Coon 1993). The conse-
quences of a one-sided exchange are too embarrassing for
givers to put upon themselves or their recipients. Those who
invest too little risk imputations of cheapness or apathy.
Those who invest too much seem obsessed or manipulative.
So when simultaneous reciprocity is expected, givers must
forecast what recipients will invest before they decide how
much to spend. Those without information on which to base
their forecasts are likely to be uncertain about what to spend,
doubtful of eliciting desired reactions, and anxious about
Novelty. Novelty refers to situations that are new to
givers or rarely encountered by them. Novel situations create
problems for givers who are likely to be uncertain about
how to behave in situations for which they have no expe-
riences to draw upon. The uncertainty associated withnovel
situations is reflected in the words of a respondent who
attended the wedding of high school classmates who married
immediately after graduation (female, survey 28). She said,
“I was only 18 years old, knew nothing about wedding
traditions (because I had never been to one before), and I
was trying to find a gift that would be nice to give the
couple, who also happened to be 18.” She was careful to
note that her ignorance and uncertainty were due to her
inexperience with this type of event. Novel situations with
romantic partners were often cited as sources of uncertainty
about what to give and how much to spend. Givers who
faced such situations expressed doubts about eliciting de-
sired reactions from recipients.
Unfamiliarity. Unfamiliarity refers to a lack of knowl-
edge about recipients’ tastes, wants, or needs. Ideally,
knowledge about the recipient should guide gift choices
(Caplow 1984). If it is lacking, then givers are likely to be
uncertain about their choices, doubtful of eliciting desired
reactions, and anxious about the experience. The high pro-
portion of affinal relatives (e.g., step-relatives and in-laws)
who were described as difficult recipients by Otnes et al.’s
(1992) informants attests to the problems associated with
choosing gifts for people who are essentially strangers. The
impact of unfamiliar recipients on giver uncertainty and,
ultimately, anxiety is apparent in the following dilemma
faced by an anxious giver:
What made me nervous or anxious about shopping for the
gift was if the gift would be appropriate for the person.When
I was buying the gift, I would imagine in my head the person
using the gift and things like that. The gift was for my boy-
friend’s father and I feel that unless you know for sure what
the person wants, it is very hard to decide what regular thing
to buy, especially if it’s a man. The occasion was for a birth-
day and it was soon after my boyfriend and I started going
out. So I didn’t want to get anything too personal because I
had just recently met his parents (like a couple of months
earlier). Getting his dad a gift made me nervous. What made
me nervous about buying him a gift was whether he would
like it or not. I guess it was more about winning his approval.
He’s a really nice man, but before I got to know him I felt
like I had to act around him and not be myself because of
my perception of him. I didn’t know he was a joker back
then so I didn’t feel comfortable just goofing off like I do
now. (Female, survey 6)
Several factors contributed to her doubts about choosing
an appropriate gift. However, many of her doubts stemmed
from her unfamiliarity with the recipient. Her lack of knowl-
edge about the recipient made her uncertain, and therefore
anxious, about finding a gift that would enable her to win
the approval of this influential other.
Dissimilarity. Dissimilarity refers to major differences
between giver and recipient on salient dimensions (e.g., val-
ues or interests). Dissimilar recipients cause uncertainty
about gift choices and pessimism about achieving desired
outcomes. In fact, differences between givers and recipients
are major reasons why some recipients are thought to be
difficult (Otnes et al. 1992). The difficulty posed by a dis-
similar recipient is evident in the following excerpt:
My husband is very conservative, and I like, you know,
because ties are so, you know, like some of them are real
boring, and I had bought him this tie that just really stood
out, you know, and I was scared to death. To this day, I’m
not sure if he really likes it or he just says he likes it, and
wears it because I bought it for him. But, it’s definitely not
him, but it’s something I liked… it was his birthday and I
guess, I don’t know, but we had to go to a wedding, and I
wanted him to wear this tie, and he needed a tie, and that’s
what I got him. (Rose, interview 1)
Rose selected a birthday gift that she thought would en-
hance her husband’s appearance and fulfill his immediate
need for a tie. After she bought it, she worried about ac-
complishing another important goal—pleasing the recipient.
Although she probably felt guilty for not considering his
tastes sooner, she was anxious because she faced the im-
probable event that the tie that appealed to her would also
please a dissimilar other. Her postpurchase uncertainty still
remains despite her husband’s occasional use of the tie and
his repeated assurances that he likes it.
Antecedents and Consequences of Perceived
Gifting Resources
Prospective givers become anxious when they perceive
their resources to be insufficient for meeting gifting de-
mands. Limited resources cause anxiety by making givers
doubtful of eliciting desired reactions to their gifts. Such
doubts were expressed by Cindy who often settles for less
desirable gifts because of financial constraints: “I think about
how much it’s going to cost because I usually have a certain
amount of money and that’s all I have. And a lot of times
I’m thinking I want to be over there buying this, but I’m
really over here buying this just because this is the amount
of money I have” (Cindy, interview 12). Although giftprices
are often viewed as signs of feelings (Cheal 1987), com-
mitment (Belk and Coon 1991), or intentions (Camerer
1988), money is not the only resource that givers need.
Moreover, actual resources are not the only determinants of
givers’ perceptions. Gifting capacity and confidence are two
giver characteristics that influence givers’ perceptions of
their gifting resources.
Gifting Capacity. Gifting capacity refers to the quality
of possessing the necessary means to succeed as givers.
People with limited gifting capacity are likely to be anxious
givers because they perceive their resources to be inadequate
to meet their demands. Both cognitive (e.g., creativity and
knowledge) and productive (e.g., money, time, and effort)
resources were deemed as necessities for givers. At least
one appeared to be lacking when givers expressed doubts
about meeting gifting demands. For example, one respon-
dent expressed doubts about giving a used fishing rod to a
long-time friend and fishing buddy (survey 61). He de-
scribed it as a high-quality piece of equipment that was too
expensive to buy new. He also thought it is customary for
people to give only new items as Christmas gifts. However,
his shortage of financial resources prevented him from giv-
ing his friend a high-quality fishing rod in new condition.
So he contemplated giving something else like “a nice new
shirt or something” that he could afford to buy new because
he was afraid of how his friend would react to a used gift.
Some research participants were unable to acquire desired
gifts because they could not identify them. This inability
was due to a lack of time or effort, two indicators of thought,
which is a major success factor in gift-giving. Some felt
anxious, if not guilty, about not devoting enough thought
to gift shopping. Others were more concerned about quality
than quantity of thought. They attributed their giving woes
to difficulty generating gift ideas. For example, one giver
cited her lack of creativity as a source of her frustrations
about buying gifts for others (female, survey 78). Despite
her best efforts to find gifts that were as good as the ones
that her friends gave her, she often failed because she was
not as insightful as they were. Consequently, she was pes-
simistic about eliciting desired responses from recipients and
anxious about giving gifts.
Confidence. Confidence is defined as self-assurance.
Givers who lack it doubt their abilities to elicit desired re-
actions from recipients. Such doubts are often not based
solely on gifting capacity. Givers who lack confidence sys-
tematically discount their actual gifting capacities. The pes-
simism arising from a lack of self-confidence is evident in
the surprise expressed by a clinical patient when her therapist
appeared to appreciate a gift from her (Neisser 1973). The
patient, who had low self-esteem, was relieved by her ther-
apist’s reaction because she doubted her ability to give an-
ything of value. Although hers was an extreme case, givers
in the present study also expressed doubts about meeting
gifting demands despite having no identifiable deficiencies
in gifting capacity. For example, one respondent expressed
unreasonable doubts when she described how she gets dis-
tressed over gift-giving even when she knows the recipient
well (female, survey 70). She concluded by saying, “I’ve
never had a bad experience with a gift though. I just worry
a lot. It is a bad habit that I have.” Despite having no
evidentiary basis for her pessimism, her doubts remain.
These doubts affect her feelings about giving gifts.
This research contributes to the substantive and concep-
tual domains of gift-giving and impression management,
respectively. The contribution to the gift-giving literature is
twofold. First, this article advances theorizing about anxiety
in interpersonal gift-giving by presenting a partially
grounded model that uses the self-presentational basis of
social anxiety (Schlenker and Leary 1982) as a theoretical
guidepost. The resulting model posits that people get anx-
ious when they are highly motivated to induce desired re-
actions from recipients and others, but they are doubtful of
success. The finding that gifting anxiety arises from con-
cerns about forthcoming reactions to gifts provides partial
support for the notion that gifting anxiety emanates from
the human urge to manage interpersonal impressions (Sherry
et al. 1993). In addition, the finding that gifting anxiety
corresponds with heightened gifting demands is consistent
with findings from previous studies (e.g., Green and Alden
1988; Sherry et al. 1993). According to the proposed model,
elusive demands or expectations spark gifting anxiety by
reducing givers’ subjective probabilities of eliciting desired
reactions to their gifts.
A second contribution to scholarship on gift-giving is the
discovery of new antecedents of gifting anxiety. Otnes et
al. (1992) found that frustrated givers often blame difficult
recipients for their woes. The present study extends their
findings by identifying characteristics of recipients, situa-
tions, and the givers themselves that precipitate gifting anx-
iety. Moreover, it suggests mechanisms through which these
sources operate when they spur anxiety. In particular, these
factors appear to either intensify givers’ desires to elicit
desired reactions from recipients or dampen their prognoses
for success.
This article also contributes to the impression manage-
ment literature in two ways. One is the discovery of new
antecedents of impression efficacy, namely, formality and
perfectionism, which both appear to heighten perceived self-
presentational demands. Another is the connection of gifting
anxiety to social anxiety. Anxious givers are often concerned
about reactions to their gifts. An unfavorable reaction by
the recipient demeans the gift and, by extension, the giver.
Givers’ concerns about evaluative reactions from recipients
suggest that gifting anxiety is social in nature, as are other
forms of anxiety, such as test and competition anxieties
(Leary and Kowalski 1995).
Limitations and Future Research
The purpose of this research was to understand why gift-
giving is such a torturous endeavor for so many people. This
exploration yielded many plausible answers to thisquestion,
but it also raises many questions to be explored in future
research. One such question concerns interrelationships
among constructs that coincide with gifting anxiety. For
example, do gifting demands affect givers’ motivations to
elicit desired reactions from recipients? Some givers may
be motivated by high gifting demands while others may be
discouraged. The relationship may not be a simple linear
one. Additional research is needed to explore relationships
like this that are not easily revealed in some qualitative
studies. Efforts to test and refine the proposed model or
identify alternative models are also warranted.
This article explored gifting anxiety by using and ex-
tending a self-presentational model of social anxiety. Al-
though the original model appears to “fit” the data with only
minor revisions, this research cannot make strong assertions
about a self-presentational basis of gifting anxiety. This lim-
itation is due to the tentative nature of causal conclusions
that can be drawn from small-sample qualitative investi-
gations. Moreover, the antecedents of impression efficacy
are not exclusive to self-presentational concerns. Not only
do uncertainty, high demands, and limited resources reduce
impression efficacy, but they also impede other goals. So
the model may “fit” the data simply because it attributes
anxiety to doubts about achieving important goals. However,
the extent to which these goals are driven by self-presen-
tational concerns remains unclear.
How one interprets evidence that gifting anxiety arises
from self-presentational concerns may depend on one’s be-
liefs about the scope of impression management. Some
would argue that trying to elicit certain reactions does not
imply that self-presentational concerns are present. Givers
who aim to please recipients may gauge reactions as evi-
dence of success or failure. This argument is consistentwith
a restrictive view of impression management as entailing
certain behaviors by certain types of people or undercertain
conditions (e.g., Buss and Briggs 1984; Snyder 1987). In
contrast, proponents of an expansive view (e.g., Schlenker
and Weigold 1992) would argue that pleasing recipients is
making an impression, and givers know it. Awareness that
others infer motives from observable actions makes people
monitor their actions (Goffman 1959). Since givers are re-
luctant to disclose their impression motives (Lowrey et al.
1996), investigations using projective methods (see McGrath
et al. 1993) are needed to explore this issue. In any event,
further exploration of self-presentation and gifting concerns
is warranted.
The impact of anxiety on gift selection strategies also
deserves further elaboration. Otnes et al. (1993) identified
various strategies that givers use to select gifts for difficult
recipients. Many of these strategies appear to reducethe risk
of giving unwanted gifts. For example, givers latch on to
successful gift ideas by giving items that are similar tothose
of previous successes. The tendency of anxious givers to
adopt risk-reduction strategies is consistent with the ten-
dency of socially anxious people to use protective rather
than acquisitive modes of self-presentation (Arkin 1981).
That is, they attempt to avoid losses of reputation rather
than seek gains in stature. The use of monetary gifts, gift
certificates, and gift registries is an example of such risk
avoidance (Chen 1997; Horne, Sayre, and Horne 1996).
These strategies deserve further exploration. A longitudinal
approach (see, e.g., Lowrey et al. 1996) might be especially
useful to uncover additional strategies, examine their
changes over time, and explore how they affect relationship
[Received August 1997. Revised September 1999. Robert
E. Burnkrant served as editor and David Glen Mick
served as associate editor for this article.]
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... When selecting products, givers need to predict recipients' preferences with the knowledge of recipients (Goodman and Lim, 2018) and imagine what will happen when the gifts are in recipients' hands (Baskin et al., 2014). Givers seek to get appraisals from recipients and avoid gift failures (Yang and Urminsky, 2018), which elicits a high level of social anxiety and interpersonal risk (Wooten, 2000). Such differences in self-other decisions have attracted intense academic interests, and most of them are established on the CLT. ...
... Consumers always pursue the feeling of making the right choice to conform to their identities, which is conceptualized as identity-based motivation (Paolacci et al., 2015;Oyserman, 2009). Giftgiving is not the exception to this motivation, and givers also have a strong desire to seek identity congruency when selecting a gift for others (Wooten, 2000;Paolacci et al., 2015). Otherwise, giftgivers will experience an identity threat (Ward and Broniarczyk, 2011). ...
... As aforementioned, desirability emphasizes the overall quality and desired end state (Lu et al., 2013;Baskin et al., 2014), which helps enhance givers' social standing and express how much givers care about recipients. In gift-giving, pleasing recipients and establishing desirable public images are the two main goals (Paolacci et al., 2015;Wooten, 2000;Baskin et al., 2014). Hence, desirability matches the core merits of gifts (Rim et al., 2019;Baskin et al., 2014). ...
Purpose This paper aims to explore when and why consumers hold inconsistent and consistent choices between self- and gift-purchases. Design/methodology/approach Across three paper-based questionnaire experiments, the authors examine how consumers’ preferences for desirability and feasibility vary with purchase types (self- vs gift-purchases) based on the functional theories of attitudes. The authors examine consumers’ attitude functions and their self-monitoring closely associated with chronic attitude functions. Findings The findings show that the social adjustive function moderates whether consumers hold consistent or inconsistent preferences across the two purchases. Specifically, consumers generally rely more on desirability in gift-purchases than self-purchases, whereas this inconsistent preference only exists when the social adjustive function is comparable or advantaged to the utilitarian function. When the social adjustive function is significantly disadvantaged relative to the utilitarian function, consumers consistently prefer feasibility irrespective of self- or gift-purchases. Research limitations/implications The research contributes to the familiar topic of consumers’ choice trade-offs between self- and gift-purchases. It documents the moderating role of the social adjustive function of consumers’ attitudes in whether they hold consistent or inconsistent choices across the two purchases. This extends the extensive research on self-other decisions. Practical implications The findings strongly suggest retailers identify or manipulate consumers’ attitude functions to make the attitude functions align with the purchase type when recommending products. Originality/value Most relevant literature focuses on exploring choice differences between self- and gift-purchases. This research not only explores the choice differences but also attempts to find the condition under which people’s choices do not differ between the two purchases.
... In psychologybased work, for instance, givers tend to overestimate the correlation between the price they pay for a gift and the recipient's appreciation of it (Flynn & Adams, 2009;Givi & Galak, 2022a). Moreover, research in this realm indicates that givers' fixation on gift prices can lead them to spend more when they fear or know that other people at the gift exchange will be giving expensive gifts Wooten, 2000). But research in this area, along with anthro-socio-based research, also shows that recipients are not always overly excited to receive expensive gifts. ...
... That is, most gift purchases are prompted by a special occasion, whereas most non-gift purchases are not. Specific facets that fall under this umbrella include whether the occasion is formal versus informal (e.g., Wooten, 2000), happy versus sad (e.g., Hwang & Chu, 2019), important versus unimportant (e.g., Wooten, 2000), rewarding versus celebratory in nature (e.g., Pieters & Robben, 1999), unfamiliar versus familiar for the giver (e.g., Wooten, 2000), characterized by a social norm (e.g., Givi & Galak, 2022b), and characterized by an expectation of reciprocity (e.g., Belk, 1979), along with whether the gift-giving even involves a special occasion at all (e.g., Larsen & Watson, 2001). ...
... That is, most gift purchases are prompted by a special occasion, whereas most non-gift purchases are not. Specific facets that fall under this umbrella include whether the occasion is formal versus informal (e.g., Wooten, 2000), happy versus sad (e.g., Hwang & Chu, 2019), important versus unimportant (e.g., Wooten, 2000), rewarding versus celebratory in nature (e.g., Pieters & Robben, 1999), unfamiliar versus familiar for the giver (e.g., Wooten, 2000), characterized by a social norm (e.g., Givi & Galak, 2022b), and characterized by an expectation of reciprocity (e.g., Belk, 1979), along with whether the gift-giving even involves a special occasion at all (e.g., Larsen & Watson, 2001). ...
In recent decades, scholars across all areas of marketing have studied consumer gift‐giving behavior. Despite the growing popularity of this research topic, no extensive review of the gift‐giving literature exists. To that end, this paper offers an expansive review of research on consumer gift‐giving, focusing primarily on work coming from within the marketing discipline, but also drawing on foundational pieces from other fields. We review extant scholarship on five of gift‐giving’s most important aspects—givers’ motivations, givers’ inputs, giver‐recipient mismatches, value creation/reduction, and the greater gift‐giving context. In doing so, we illuminate the literature’s key agreements and disagreements, shed light on themes that traverse ostensibly disparate gift‐giving findings, and develop deeper conceptualizations of gifting constructs. Moreover, we identify opportunities for improvement in the gift‐giving literature and use them to create key agendas for future gift‐giving research. In sum, this paper offers a single point of reference for gift‐giving scholars, improves academia’s current understanding of gift‐giving, offers several theoretical contributions, and generates multiple paths for future research.
... Consumers often need to predict others' preferences, for instance, when buying gifts (Wooten, 2000). Such predictions are not limited to consumers; managers regularly need to predict customer preferences (Hoch, 1988;Weitz et al., 1986). ...
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Recent research suggests that consumers often exhibit the “commonness fallacy” by overestimating the likelihood of others choosing a frequently consumed item (e.g., vanilla ice cream) rather than a less frequently consumed item (e.g., tiramisu). This research tests whether the extent to which consumers perceive their choices as similar to others—their social projection tendency—explains the commonness fallacy. Two preregistered studies (N = 605) found that consumers with a higher social projection tendency overestimated the extent to which others would choose commonly consumed options if they themselves chose such options over less commonly consumed options. However, social projection cannot fully explain the commonness fallacy as participants with lower social projection tendencies also displayed the commonness fallacy in both studies. The findings delineate the commonness fallacy from consumers' well‐documented tendency to view others' choices as similar to their own.
... However, when they restrict sharing information with a small group of service providers, this possibility decreases. By sharing personal information with other people, people feel privacy risks (Acquisti & Grossklags,2005;Balaji, Khong, and Chong 2016;Kim & Kim, 2014) because the presence of third parties increases anxiety (Sherry, McGrath, and Levy 2013;Shmargad & Watts, 2016;Wooten, 2000). Determining information-sharing boundaries by setting linkage privacy control options decreases their anxiety. ...
Despite the diverse benefits of smart home Internet of Things (IoT) services, the biggest obstacle to the actual usage of those services is concern about privacy. However, little research has investigated the impact of privacy control on users' intention to use smart home services. Based on communication privacy management theory and privacy calculus theory, this study investigates how privacy control options affect users' perceived benefits and costs and how those perceptions affect individuals’ intentions to use smart home services by conducting an experiment. Our results showed that smart home privacy control options decreased perceived benefits and increased perceived costs. The perceived benefits and costs significantly affected the intention to use smart home security services. More intriguingly, the effect of perceived benefit was found to be stronger than that of the expected cost. This research contributes to the field of IoT and smart home research and provides practitioners with notable guidelines.
... However, despite the long-standing interest in personality, consumer research has paid little attention to the perfectionism trait of personality (He, 2016), although perfectionism can influence the way people think and act in a wide range of domains. The few important studies addressing the implications of perfectionism in the field of consumer research include Wooten (2000), who found that consumer perfectionism is an antecedent of impression management in gift-giving and is linked to gifting anxiety, Kopalle and Lehmann (2001), who found that consumers who are perfectionists have higher expectations than those who are not He (2016), who demonstrated that perfectionists, driven by dichotomous thinking, perform poorly in consumer decision making at high levels of difficulty, and Ker and Kao (2021), who demonstrated that consumer perfectionism impacts product evaluation, as moderated by the secrecy effect and name volatility. ...
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Although perfectionism can influence the way people think and act in a wide range of domains, consumer research has paid little attention to this personality trait. A theoretically anchored model proposes that the relationship between perfectionism traits and willingness to offer positive word-of-mouth (WOM) is mediated by the perceived social risk of recommending a brand to relatives and friends in person (i.e., the social risk of disapproval and embarrassment). We employed a mixed-methods approach with symmetric (structural equation modeling [SEM]) and asymmetric (fuzzy set qualitative comparative analysis [fsQCA]) methods. With SEM, we found that consumers with high levels of (1) doubts about actions, (2) other-oriented perfectionism, and (3) nondisclosure of imperfection have a lower propensity to offer positive WOM, because of a higher perception of social risk. Further, results from fsQCA reveal that the absence of those three dimensions is a sufficient condition to the absence of perceived social risk. Overall, the present research deepens the current understanding of the psychological profile of WOM communicators, and the role perceived social risk has on the propensity to spread WOM.
This research examines the effects of gift prices on recipients’ gratitude. Five studies show an inverted U-shaped relationship between gift price and recipients’ gratitude. Recipients are more likely to appreciate gifts of monetary value that align with their expectations than inexpensive or expensive gifts whose values do not meet the recipients’ expectations. Two parallel underlying mechanisms explain the inverted U-shaped relationship: when gift prices are lower than expected, recipients perceive givers as inconsiderate, and when gift prices are higher than expected, recipients feel indebted. Additionally, we examine two boundary conditions. Compared to North Americans, Asians are more likely to show an inverted U-shaped relationship. In addition, close friends, rather than distant friends, are more likely to show an inverted U-shaped relationship. The paper concludes with a discussion of contributions to the literature on gift-giving and practical implications.
While perfectionism has been extensively explored in psychiatric and clinical psychology literature, theoretical understanding of the effects of perfectionism on consumers' evaluations of the advocated product is promising but underexplored. Therefore, this research aims to employ cases of perfectionism and secrecy effect to examine whether name volatility can moderate consumers' product evaluations. The experiment was designed to examine the effect of perfectionism on product evaluation by presenting a variety of advertisements that differed in name volatility and secrecy context manipulation. In the experiment, a total of 217 participants were randomly assigned to a 2 (secrecy context: secret vs. non‐secret) × 2 (name volatility: volatile vs. calm) × 2 (perfectionism: self‐oriented vs. socially prescribed) between‐subjects factorial design. Results demonstrated that for consumers who showed variances in the type of perfectionism, advertisements characterized by different secrecy (secret context vs. non‐secret context) and name volatility (volatile vs. calm) will lead to differential product evaluations. This research takes up the call to extend the limited attention given to perfectionism in the domain of marketing. Specifically, this research aims to explore how consumers' perfectionism affects their product evaluations and the moderating effects of secrecy and name volatility.
Schenken ist ein allgegenwärtiges Phänomen und ein bedeutender Wirtschaftsfaktor. Allein das Weihnachtsfest als wichtigster Konsumanlass für Geschenke beschert dem Einzelhandel in Deutschenland einen Milliardenumsatz. Dazu kommen Geschenke zu verschiedenen traditionellen Gelegenheiten wie Geburtstag und Hochzeit, Vater- und Muttertag sowie kommerziell erfundenen Geschenkanlässen wie dem Valentinstag. Doch Schenken ist nicht nur ökonomisch, sondern auch psychologisch von außerordentlicher Bedeutung. Denn die uns das ganze Jahr und lebenslang begleitenden Schenkprozesse des Gebens und Nehmens haben ambivalenten Charakter. Einerseits sind sie freiwillige Akte, die starke positive Emotionen wie Freude und Dankbarkeit auslösen. Andererseits gilt für sie eine Fülle von Normen, die wegen ihres verpflichtenden Charakters Unsicherheit und Frust verursachen und bei Regelverletzung starke negative Gefühle wie Enttäuschung und Ärger.
Geschenke sind eine Art symbolhafte Sprache, mit der Informationen über die Person des Gebers, die von ihm wahrgenommene Rolle des Empfängers und den Stand der Beziehung kommuniziert werden. Hinsichtlich des Gebers informieren Geschenke über die Höhe der finanziellen und emotionalen Investitionen, über Charaktereigenschaften, Interessen und geschmackliche Präferenzen. Auch machen sie deutlich, wie er seine Rolle in der Beziehung sieht, ob er als „Begünstiger“ oder „Versorger“, als „Sozialisierer“ oder „Kompensierer“, als „Akzeptierer“ oder „Vermeider“ agiert. Mit der Übernahme der eigenen Rolle weist der Geber zugleich dem Empfänger eine komplementäre Rolle zu. Diese Zuweisung und weitere Details machen Geschenke zum Gradmesser für die Intensität und die Qualität einer Beziehung.
Social and personal relationships are defined through gift exchange. This paper is concerned with the extent to which gift giving in Iran can be viewed as a presentation of self. Formal gifts tend to be stereotyped, generalized currency in social exchange. Personal gifts more often reflect individuals' understanding of themselves. Selfhood may be expressed safely in the protected realm of intimates, who include some immediate family members, close friends, saints and God.