ArticlePDF Available

Sentimental Value and Gift Giving: Givers' Fears of Getting It Wrong Prevents Them from Getting It Right



Sentimental value is the value derived from an emotionally-laden item's associations with significant others, or special events or times in one's life. The present research demonstrates that when faced with the choice between sentimentally valuable gifts and gifts with superficial attributes that match the preferences of the recipient, givers give the latter much more often than recipients would prefer to receive such gifts. This asymmetry appears to be driven by givers feeling relatively certain that preference-matching gifts will be well-liked by recipients, but relatively uncertain that the same is true for sentimentally valuable gifts. Three studies demonstrate this gift-giving mismatch and validate the proposed mechanism across a variety of gift-giving occasions and giver-receiver relationship types. The contribution of these findings to the gift-giving literature, as well as directions for future research, are discussed.
Sentimental value is the value derived from an emotionally-laden item’s associations
with significant others, or special events or times in one’s life. The present research demonstrates
that when faced with the choice between sentimentally valuable gifts and gifts with superficial
attributes that match the preferences of the recipient, givers give the latter much more often than
recipients would prefer to receive such gifts. This asymmetry appears to be driven by givers
feeling relatively certain that preference-matching gifts will be well-liked by recipients, but
relatively uncertain that the same is true for sentimentally valuable gifts. Three studies
demonstrate this gift-giving mismatch and validate the proposed mechanism across a variety of
gift-giving occasions and giver-receiver relationship types. The contribution of these findings to
the gift-giving literature, as well as directions for future research, are discussed.
Keywords: gift-giving, self-other decision making, uncertainty, sentimental value.
An ideal gift can take many shapes. Gifts related to the preferences and tastes of
individuals tend to be well received (Gino & Flynn, 2011), as are gifts that serve as reminders of
special events and relationships (Belk 1988, 1991). This latter type of gift, one we term a
sentimentally valuable gift, is particularly interesting because of its ability to provide a recipient
with happiness for years after the gift exchange (Yang & Galak, 2015). Yet, as we will show,
givers do not give these gifts as often as recipients would like. That is, we will demonstrate that
when faced with the decision of whether to give a gift with superficial attributes that match the
preferences of the recipient or a gift that is likely to act as a reminder of the giver-receiver
relationship, givers give the former more often than recipients would prefer. The question of why
such a mismatch occurs is central to the intent of this paper. Indeed, we propose this arises
because givers feel relatively certain that preference-matching gifts will be well-liked by
recipients, but relatively uncertain the same is true for sentimentally valuable gifts, and, as a
result, shy away from the latter.
Theoretical Background
The utility a recipient extracts from a gift comes in many different forms, however, in the
present research we focus on two. First, a gift may provide a recipient utility in the form of
preference-matching utility. Preference-matching utility is the utility a person derives from an
object when its superficial components match their idiosyncratic tastes. For any given object, the
extent to which these attributes, such as its brand, form factor, appearance, and the like, match an
individual’s tastes, determines its net preference-matching utility to that individual. For example,
a Justin Bieber poster given to a “Belieber,” a gift card to GameStop given to a video game
enthusiast, and a Tom Brady jersey given to a Patriots fan, all have substantial preference-
matching utility as the superficial attributes of the gifts match the respective recipients
idiosyncratic tastes. We emphasize the superficial aspect of preference-matching utility to
differentiate it from another form of utility a recipient may extract from a gift, sentimental value.
Unlike preference-matching utility, which stems from an item’s superficial features
matching one’s tastes, sentimental value stems from an item’s intangible link to a cherished
aspect of one’s life. Specifically, sentimental value is the value derived from an emotionally-
laden object’s associations with significant others, or special events or times in one’s life (Belk,
1988, 1991; Fletcher, 2009; Yang & Galak, 2015).1 This value is acquired immediately, though
in some cases it may increase with time (Yang & Galak, 2015). It is important to note that not all
objects that relate to other people, past events, or another time, are sentimentally valuable. As the
definition suggests, it is critical that at least one of these elements are “significant” or “special”,
and that the object is emotionally-laden. Further, the associations must be with positive aspects
of one’s life (i.e., not associations with a now-disliked person, or an unpleasant event or time;
Yang & Galak, 2015). As an example of a sentimentally valuable object, consider a picture of
someone along with their best friends at high school graduation, that was given to them at their
graduation party. This picture immediately carries strong associations with significant others
(best friends), and a special event (graduation), and thus will likely be quite sentimentally
valuable to the recipient. As another example, a scrapbook given by a loving husband to his wife
on their 10-year wedding anniversary is likely to be immediately sentimentally valuable as the
scrapbook not only leads the wife to think of a significant other (husband), but also a special
event and time in her life (their wedding and subsequent marriage). In both of these cases, the
sentimental value stems from the memory markers the objects provide.
Though it seems possible that some gifts are both high in sentimental value and
preference-matching utility, these two forms of utility are generally negatively correlated (Yang
& Galak, 2015), and thus givers may often have to decide whether to give a gift high in
sentimental value and low in preference-matching utility, or vice-versa. To examine if this is
indeed the case, we conducted a pilot study in which seventy-one Amazon Mechanical Turk
workers (56% female, Mage = 33.63) were presented with six tradeoffs from the gift-giving
literature, along with the sentimental value vs. preference-matching utility tradeoff, and indicated
how often they had to make each tradeoff when gift-giving (0 = Never, 100 = Every time I
decide on a gift)2. As is shown in Table 1, the average rating for the sentimental value vs.
preference-matching utility tradeoff was 45.86, which was one of the highest ratings given to any
of the tradeoffs. In other words, the frequency of this tradeoff in everyday gift-giving is quite
high, and even more common than many of the tradeoffs documented in the gift-giving literature
(see Table 1).
--- Insert Table 1 about here ---
Having confirmed the sentimental value vs. preference-matching utility tradeoff is quite
common in everyday gift-giving, the present work asks whether givers and recipients are aligned
with one another when it comes to this tradeoff. Said otherwise, do givers give sentimentally
valuable gifts as often as recipients would prefer? To that end, in our studies, givers and
recipients choose between two gifts: one that is sentimentally valuable and one whose superficial
components match the preferences of the recipient. For recipients, the decision of which gift is
preferred is straightforward. Recipients simply evaluate the utility they know they will extract
from each gift, and then choose whichever gift provides them with more utility. Given that
recipients are merely expressing a preference for the self, and uncertainty regarding the utility
they will extract from each gift is minimal, this should be a fairly easy task, as they just have to
choose the gift they know they will like more. In some cases, this will be the preference-
matching gift, while in others it will be the sentimentally valuable gift. On the other hand,
consider the giver’s perspective. Givers will also try to assess the utility the recipient will extract
from each gift, however, since they are choosing for someone else, there is uncertainty regarding
these predictions. Thus, givers have to consider how much utility the recipient will derive from
each gift in terms of distributions of possible utilities (rather than a single, definite utility stream
like recipients consider). Under these circumstances, givers will likely feel relatively certain that
a preference-matching gift (which, by definition, possesses superficial attributes the recipient is
known to like), will be well-liked by the recipient. At the same time, however, givers will likely
feel relatively uncertain that a sentimentally valuable gift (which, does not possess these
attributes), will be well-liked by the recipient. That is, even if a giver believes the sentimentally
valuable gift is superior, there is some uncertainty as to whether the receiver will like it.
Therefore, the giver may instead opt for the preference-matching gift because of its perceived
certainty to be well-liked as compared to the sentimentally valuable gift.
In sum, we predict that givers do not give sentimentally valuable gifts as often as
recipients would prefer, and that this arises because givers feel relatively certain that preference-
matching gifts will be liked by recipients, but relatively uncertain the same is true for
sentimentally valuable gifts.
Study 1
Study 1 serves as an initial test of our hypothesis that givers do not give sentimentally
valuable gifts as often as recipients would prefer. Also, the gift-giving occasion is manipulated
and the social closeness of givers and recipients is measured, to examine whether either of these
factors attenuates our predicted result.
Four hundred and two Amazon Mechanical Turk workers (237 females (59%); Mage =
35.90, SD = 11.51) completed the study in exchange for $0.20. Of those, sixty-six failed the
study attention checks and six responses included duplicate IP addresses (suggesting the
possibility of multiple completions from the same participant). As such, these participants were
excluded, resulting in usable data from three hundred and thirty participants.
Study 1 is a 2 (Role: Giver vs. Recipient) by 2 (Occasion: Birthday vs. Going Away
Party) between-subjects design. All participants began the study by writing the name of a friend.
Next, participants were randomly assigned to a Giver or Recipient condition. Givers in the
Birthday (Going Away Party) condition read a vignette in which they were deciding on a gift for
their friend’s birthday (going away party) and had narrowed their choice down to two equally-
priced options: 1) A framed, 20-inch by 30-inch, high-quality photograph of the friend’s favorite
musician (the preference-matching gift); or 2) Developing (in size 8-inch by 10-inch) and
framing a somewhat low-quality photograph of them and their friend on a day they had a lot of
fun together (that was stored on their computer), and giving it as a gift (the sentimentally
valuable gift). Givers then chose which of these two they would give, filled out a three-item scale
to measure social closeness to the recipient in real-life (α = .78; see Appendix A; Ward &
Broniarczyk, 2016), and answered several attention checks. Recipients completed the study in a
similar manner, only from the recipient’s perspective.
Results and Discussion
Our primary measure of interest is the percent of participants choosing the sentimentally
valuable gift across the four conditions. We first ran a logistic regression on this measure with
Role, Occasion, and their interaction entered as predictors. The interaction was not significant (p
= .12), however we went on to conduct two planned contrasts to better understand how the
results unfolded for each occasion. As predicted, when deciding on a birthday gift, givers were
less likely to give the sentimentally valuable gift (63.2% (60/97), than recipients were to prefer
to receive it (78.8% (67/85); χ2 (1, N = 180) = 5.30, p = .021, φ = .17). Similarly, when deciding
on a going away gift, givers were less likely to give the sentimentally valuable gift (75.9%
(63/83), than recipients were to prefer to receive it (95.5% (64/67); χ2 (1, N = 150) = 10.00, p =
.001, φ = .27).
Next, we turn to some secondary findings: First, it appears that givers and recipients have
similar beliefs about the importance of the gift giving occasion on giving a sentimentally
valuable gift, as givers were more likely to give the sentimentally valuable gift as a going away
gift (75.9% (63/83)), than as a birthday gift (63.2% (60/97); χ2 (1, N = 178 = 3.37, p = .066, φ =
.14), and recipients were more likely to prefer the sentimentally valuable gift as a going away
gift (95.5% (64/67)), than as a birthday gift (78.8% (67/85); χ2 (1, N = 152) = 5.30, p = .003, φ =
.24), however across both occasions, givers did not give the sentimentally valuable gift nearly as
often as recipients would have liked. Second, it appears that givers and recipients are also
aligned in their beliefs about the importance of social closeness on giving a sentimentally
valuable gift, as a logistic regression on choice of the sentimentally valuable gift with only the
social closeness measure entered as a predictor reveals that the sentimentally valuable gift was
chosen more often when the friend was socially closer (β = .41, p = .001), however social
closeness did not interact with Role (p = .65) or Occasion (p = .43), nor was the three-way
interaction significant (p = .93). These results suggest givers give sentimentally valuable gifts
more often to closer (vs. more distant) friends, but still not nearly as often as these close friends
would like, and that this does not vary based on the occasion.
In sum, Study 1’s results provide initial evidence that givers do not give sentimentally
valuable gifts as often as recipients would prefer, and demonstrate this effect is not attenuated by
the occasion or social closeness.
Study 2
Study 2 aims to help rule in an uncertainty explanation for givers’ aversion to giving
sentimentally valuable gifts. Specifically, in Study 2, we induce mindsets of risk-taking being
either fruitful or costly and then assess which gifts givers choose. If givers avoid giving
sentimentally valuable gifts because they are uncertain they will be well-liked by recipients, then
when givers feel positively (vs. negatively) about risk-taking, they should be more likely to give
sentimentally valuable gifts. Importantly, this assumes givers have a belief that sentimentally
valuable gifts could be better-liked than preference-matching gifts, but are reluctant to give them
because preference-matching gifts are sure to be liked at least to some minimal degree. That is,
sentimentally valuable gifts may turn out to be exceptional or turn out to be duds. The
uncertainty as to which type of gift (exceptional or dud) a sentimentally valuable gift turns out to
be, is what leads givers to avoid giving it. If, however, givers are exogenously made to feel
comfortable taking a risk, then they may be more inclined to choose the sentimentally valuable
gift and hope for the best.
Three hundred and ninety-nine Amazon Mechanical Turk workers (223 females (56%);
Mage = 34.06, SD = 11.62) completed the study in exchange for $0.25. Of those, fifty-one failed
the study attention checks and zero responses included duplicate IP addresses. As such, these
participants were excluded, resulting in usable data from three hundred and forty-eight
Participants were randomly assigned to either the Risk Failure or Risk Success condition.
All participants read they were going to be taking two separate studies called the Risk Study
and the Choice Study. Those in the Risk Failure (Risk Success) condition completed the Risk
Study by writing about a time they took a risk and it failed (paid off). Prior research has used
similar writing tasks to induce such mindsets (Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Magee, 2003). Next, all
participants completed the Choice Study. They were presented with a new consent form and new
font was used to make participants believe the studies were unrelated. All participants then read a
vignette that described the participant and a close friend looking at a picture album and coming
across a picture of them riding matching red bicycles as children. The vignette then described the
participant looking for a birthday gift for that friend a few days later, before narrowing his or her
choice down to two bicycles made by top brands: 1) A white bicycle made by Giant Bicycles,
which was the brand the recipient really liked, and he or she owned other gear made by this
brand (the preference-matching gift); or 2) A red bicycle made by Trek Bicycles, which was a
brand the recipient did not have any other gear made by; however this bicycle looked identical to
the bicycles in the picture album, except it was an adult-sized bicycle (the sentimentally valuable
gift). Participants then chose which of these two they would give, explained their choice,
explained what they thought the purpose of each study was, explained whether and how they
thought the two studies were related, and answered several attention checks.
Results and Discussion
Our primary measure of interest is the percent of participants giving the sentimentally
valuable gift across the two conditions. As expected, a chi-square test reveals that givers who
had just written about a time when taking a risk paid off, were more likely to give the
sentimentally valuable gift (48.0% (85/177)), compared to givers who had just written about a
time when taking a risk failed (35.1% (60/171); χ2 (1, N = 348) = 6.27, p = .012, φ = .13).
Further, this result is unchanged if the thirty-four participants who correctly guessed how the two
studies were related are excluded from the analysis (47.8% (77/161) vs. 34.6% (53/153); χ2 (1, N
= 314) = 5.62, p = .018, φ = .13).
These results provide evidence in support of an uncertainty account for givers’ reluctance
to giving sentimentally valuable gifts, as the likelihood of givers selecting the sentimentally
valuable gift varied systematically as a function of how comfortable they were with uncertainty.
Study 3
Study 3 serves to extend the generalizability of our findings in three key ways. First, the
study employs several different gifts, rather than the same two for each participant. Second, gifts
are selected for romantic partners (as opposed to friends). Third, and most critically, participants
make choices with real gifts at stake.
One hundred and seventy-two couples (172 females (50%); Mage = 31.24, SD = 9.62)
from the online panel, Amazon Mechanical Turk, completed the study in exchange for $2.00. Of
those, eighteen failed the study attention checks, five responses included duplicate IP addresses,
and nine did not complete the photo verification portion of the study (see below). As such, these
couples were excluded, resulting in usable data from one hundred and forty couples.
Participants were recruited to take part in a “Couples Study” and were informed that both
members of the romantic couple would need to be present to complete the study and that photo
verification of both members would be required to receive payment. To begin, the couple jointly
uploaded a picture with both individuals in the frame and the current time in the background (to
ensure both were present). Next, they wrote down their names, and one member of the couple
(the giver) was randomly selected to complete the first part of the study. The other member of
the couple (the recipient) was asked to leave the room for a few minutes and to not communicate
with their partner during this time.
To begin, the giver wrote down what he or she believed was the recipient’s favorite store.
Next, the giver chose which of six sentimentally valuable items (see Appendix B) he or she
thought the recipient would like best. Finally, the giver was informed that he or she would be
asked to choose between giving the recipient either a $25 gift card3 to his or her favorite store
(the preference-matching gift) or the item selected earlier (the sentimentally valuable gift), and
that after the study, some participants’ choices would be realized (i.e., they would be sent
whatever they chose so they could give it to their recipient). After the giver chose, he or she was
told to leave the room for a few minutes, to tell the recipient to return, and to not to communicate
with the recipient during this portion of the study. The recipient then was informed the giver
thought he or she might like the two items mentioned above (i.e., the $25 gift card to the
recipient’s favorite store and the sentimentally valuable item), and then imagined the giver was
choosing between these two items as a gift for the recipient. Next, the recipient indicated which
of the two items he or she would prefer to receive from the giver.
The recipient then retrieved the giver and the pair completed the rest of the study in
which they uploaded a second photo of themselves with the current time in the background (to
ensure both were present), and answered several attention checks. After data collection, a subset
of givers was shipped the item they selected so they could give it to their recipient.
Results and Discussion
Our primary measure of interest is the percent of participants choosing the sentimentally
valuable gift across the two conditions. To control for correlated preferences between couples,
the choice data were analyzed using a hierarchical (multi-level) binary logistic model. Individual
choices were nested within couple which was treated as a random effect. Participant role (Giver
vs. Recipient) was treated as a fixed effect. Consistent with our prediction, givers were less likely
to give the sentimentally valuable gift (23.6% (33/140), than recipients were to prefer to receive
it (34.3% (48/140); β = .79, z = 2.32, p = .021).
This result further demonstrates, in an incentive-compatible context, that givers do not
give sentimentally valuable gifts as often as recipients would like.
General Discussion
The studies in this paper demonstrated that givers do not give sentimentally valuable gifts
as often as recipients would prefer, and that this appears to be the result of givers feeling
relatively uncertain about whether sentimentally valuable gifts will be well-liked by recipients.
Our research provides a meaningful contribution to the gift-giving literature as this
literature has investigated several of the tradeoffs givers often confront (see Table 1 references),
but is mute on the sentimental value vs. preference-matching utility tradeoff that is present in
many gifting decisions. Further, our proposed mechanism, that givers’ fears of getting it wrong
prevents them from getting it right4, is also novel to the gift-giving literature. We believe our
findings are considerably surprising when one considers the work in egocentric projection bias
demonstrating that people expect others to share attitudes similar to their own more often than
they actually do (e.g., Ross, Greene, & House, 1977), which would predict givers’ choices would
be heavily weighted based on what they would want to receive themselves, and thus predict no
mismatch, and the work in self-other decision making demonstrating that people often make
relatively risky choices for others (e.g., Stone & Allgaier, 2008), which would predict givers
would favor the potential home run in the sentimentally valuable gift. Taken as a whole, the
above discussion suggests our work provides a considerable contribution to consumer
psychology, but we believe perhaps its greatest contribution comes in the number of different
paths it suggests for future research.
First, our work highlights the need for a synthesized framework of the entire gift-giving
endeavor, or said otherwise, a more coherent understanding of the various mismatches between
givers and recipients (Table 1). Our work speaks to this need as some of our results seem to be
somewhat inconsistent with previous work. For instance, research has shown that givers believe
recipients equally-appreciate unrequested and requested gifts, but recipients are more
appreciative of the latter (Gino & Flynn, 2011). This would seem to predict givers would give
sentimentally valuable gifts more often than recipients would prefer (if one assumes preference-
matching gifts are somewhat analogous to requested gifts); however, this is clearly not the case
in our studies. One explanation for this inconsistency may be that recipients simply extract more
utility from sentimentality than from surprise. That said, this incongruity speaks to the need for a
comprehensive framework of the motives and desires of givers and recipients. To that end, a
closer look at Table 1 suggests givers favor gifts that make for a pleasant gift exchange (e.g.,
gifts that are desirable, complete, etc.), whereas recipients prefer gifts that provide the most
utility during their subsequent ownership (e.g., gifts that are requested, feasible, etc.). This notion
may prove to be a good starting point for painting a more coherent picture of the gift-giving
Additionally, our work certainly has some loose-ends future research could explore. For
instance, though our effect persisted no matter the gifting occasion, social closeness of the giver
to the recipient, or type of relationship between the two parties, there were some ancillary
findings suggesting these factors may be important. For example, in Study 1, givers were more
likely to give sentimentally valuable gifts to close (vs. more distant) friends. One explanation for
this may be that distant (vs. close) givers are more-strongly motivated to simply give a gift that
will not be disliked, and thus opt for safer, preference-matching gifts. Past work has shown that
gifts affect recipients’ views of relationships (Ruth, Otnes, & Brunel, 1999), and distant givers
may feel they have little room for error, hence leading to such a satisficing strategy. That said,
this is admittedly a post-hoc explanation as this, and the other potential moderators, were
included to test the robustness of our finding, but were not central to our conceptual framework.
Thus, a fruitful avenue for future work may be to gain a greater understanding of the role these,
and other, potential moderators play in the sentimental value vs. preference-matching utility
tradeoff, as well as their roles in gift-giving on a broader level. These factors may too prove to be
a good starting point for generating a synthesized framework of the gift-giving process, as
various moderators have been shown to affect specific gifting decisions (e.g., Ward &
Broniarczyk, 2016; Baskin et al., 2014), but their role in the broader gift-giving process remains
relatively unknown.
Finally, future work could explore other psychological mechanisms that may play a role
in the asymmetry documented in the present work, and examine how the psychological
mechanism of the present work may play a role in other gifting asymmetries. For instance,
regarding the former, sentimentally valuable gifts may be construed by givers and recipients as
quite thoughtful, but the different weights the two parties place on thoughtfulness (Zhang &
Epley, 2012), may lead to a mismatch. Regarding the latter, consider the tradeoff between
immediate, but lesser, gifts, and delayed, but overall superior, gifts (Yang & Urminsky, 2015).
Here, givers opt for immediate gifts more than recipients prefer. Perhaps this arises because
givers view immediate gifts as relatively certain to be liked to some minimal degree, but view
delayed gifts as being colored by considerable uncertainty, whereas recipients do not have to
consider such a distribution of utilities; they know for certain the delayed gift is best.
In conclusion, we hope the present work provides insight into the minds of givers and
recipients and sparks several ideas for researchers. Perhaps most importantly, however, we hope
the present research guides givers in their gifting decisions and leads to happier recipients.
Baskin, E., Wakslak C., Trope, Y., & Novemsky, N. (2014). Why Feasibility Matters More to
Gift Receivers than to Givers: A Construal-Level Approach to Gift Giving. Journal of
Consumer Research, 41, 122-134.
Belk, R. W. (1988). Possessions and the Extended Self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15,
Belk, R. W. (1991). The Ineluctable Mysteries of Possessions. Journal of Social Behavior and
Personality, 6, 17-55.
Chan C., & Mogilner, C. (2016). Experiential Gifts Foster Stronger Social Relationships than
Material Gifts. Journal of Consumer Research.
Fletcher, G. (2009). Sentimental Value. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 43, 55-65.
Galinsky, A. D., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Magee, J. C. (2003). From Power to Action. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 453-466.
Gino, F., & Flynn, F. J. (2011). Give them what they want: The benefits of explicitness in gift
exchange. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 915-922.
Goodman, J., & Lim, S. (2015). Giving Happiness: Consumers Should Give More Experiences
but Choose Material Gifts Instead. Unpublished manuscript, Washington University in
St. Louis, St. Louis, MO.
Kupor, D., Flynn, F. J., & Norton, M. I. (2016). Half a gift is not half-hearted: A giver-receiver
asymmetry in preferences for partial gifts. Unpublished manuscript, Boston University,
Boston, MA.
List, J. A., & Shogren, J. (1998). The deadweight loss of Christmas: Comment. The American
Economic Review, 88, 1350-1355.
Ross, L., Greene, D., & House, P. (1977). The “False Consensus Effect”: An Egocentric Bias in
Social Perception and Attribution Processes. Journal of Experimental Social
Psychology, 13, 279-301.
Ruth, J. A., Otnes, C. C., & Brunel, F. F. (1999). Gift Receipt and the Reformulation of
Interpersonal Relationships. Journal of Consumer Research, 25, 385-402.
Stone, E. R., & Allgaier, L. (2008). A Social Values Analysis of SelfOther Differences in
Decision Making Involving Risk. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 30, 114-129.
Ward, M. K., & Broniarczyk, S. M. (2016). Ask and You Shall (Not) Receive: Close Friends
Prioritize Relational Signaling over Recipient Preferences in Their Gift Choices. Journal
of Marketing Research, 53, 1001-1018.
Williams, E. F., & Rosenzweig, E. (2016). Go ahead, give them the blender! Giver and recipient
preferences for hedonic and utilitarian gifts. Unpublished manuscript, University of
California, San Diego, San Diego, CA.
Yang, Y., & Galak, J. (2015). Sentimental Value and Its Influence on Hedonic Adaptation.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109, 767-790.
Yang, A.X., & Urminsky, O. (2015). Smile-Seeking Givers and Value-Seeking Recipients: Why
Gift Choices and Recipient Preferences Diverge. Unpublished manuscript, University of
Chicago, Chicago, IL.
Zhang, Y., & Epley, N. (2012). Exaggerated, Mispredicted, and Misplaced: When “It's the
Thought That Counts” in Gift Exchanges. Journal of Experimental Psychology:
General, 141, 667-681.
1Note that this definition of sentimental value differs from that used in economics, which
treats sentimental value as all the non-material financial value of a gift (e.g., List & Shogren,
2In all studies, sample size was determined prior to the start of data collection and all
variables are reported. All research materials and data can be obtained here: (masked for review,
but available if requested).
3We conducted a pre-test in which givers and recipients imagined taking part in this study
and indicated at what dollar amount they would be indifferent between the gift card and the
sentimentally valuable item. Based on this pre-test, $25 was determined to be an appropriate
amount for the actual study.
4We thank our tremendous Associate Editor, David Wooten, for this eloquent phrasing of
our findings.
... As we focus on differences regarding how a gift card is given, as opposed to what is ultimately consumed, our research falls under the small but growing literature on the how-to-give aspect of gift-giving (Givi & Das, 2022;Herziger & Donnelly, 2022;Howard, 1992;Polman & Maglio, 2017;Rixom et al., 2019), as opposed to the what-to-give aspect of gift-giving (i.e., what product to give as a gift; e.g., Cavanaugh et al., 2015;Choi et al., 2018;Givi & Galak, 2017;Yang et al., 2021). ...
... Lastly, given the hypothetical nature of our studies, it is possible that recipients may have mispredicted their preferences or the degree to which they would truly see digital gift cards as violating gifting norms. However, note that hypothetical studies are common in the gift-giving literature (e.g., Givi & Galak, 2017), so this limitation is not unique to our gifting research. Moreover, it is also possible that our effects could be larger in nonhypothetical scenarios (the core effect was in the range of 10%-25% across studies, which is consistent with other gift-giving research but not overwhelmingly large). ...
... Studies A2 and A3 in the Appendix), we found support for a thoughtfulness mediator-which might be expected, given that, as mentioned earlier, the norm involving physical versus digital gift cards is in part rooted in thoughtfulness-but found evidence against multiple additional accounts (perceptions of ease of use, perceptions of ease of forgetting to use, perceptions of ease of loss, and environmental considerations). However, there may be other factors that play a role in our findings (e.g., risk perceptions [Givi & Galak, 2017], social bonding perceptions [Wilson et al., 2022]), and we implore future research to fully examine these additional potential mechanisms. Doing so would increase our understanding of the psychology involved with giving and receiving physical and digital gift cards. ...
Full-text available
We explore the psychology involved with giving and receiving gift cards by studying givers' and recipients' preferences for digital versus physical gift cards. Across five studies, we demonstrate that givers are less likely to choose digital (vs. physical) gift cards than recipients are to prefer to receive them. The data suggest that this asymmetry occurs, in part, because givers overestimate the extent to which recipients see digital (vs. physical) gift cards as violating the social norms of gift‐giving. Indeed, givers' aversion to digital gift cards attenuates when they are less likely to perceive digital (vs. physical) gift cards as violating gift‐giving norms and when they are less attentive to such norms. This research adds to the gift‐giving literature by offering an initial foray into the tradeoff between digital and physical gifts, demonstrating a new instance in which givers' and recipients' preferences diverge, and documenting an underlying cause and boundary conditions of this asymmetry.
... Prior research bears out the role that gifts play in fostering consumers' interpersonal relationships (Ruth et al., 1999;Sherry Jr., 1983), but the extant literature on gift giving emphasizes which gifts might be the most valued by the recipient (e.g., Givi & Galak, 2017;Paolacci et al., 2015), and how giver-recipient relationships may benefit from gifts (Aknin & Human, 2015). Thus, while a considerable body of work investigates the recipient's direct evaluation of the gift, we address the broader conceptual issue of the gift recipient's subsequent attitudes and behaviors toward the gifted brand. ...
... However, there might be other characteristics of gifts that can influence such a process. For instance, gifts that are particularly sentimentally valuable, such as an engagement ring or one's framed picture with a friend received for their graduation party, typically serve as strong reminders of the gift-receiver relationship (e.g., romantic partnership, friendship), and of a related special time and event in life (e.g., graduation, wedding and subsequent marriage; Givi & Galak, 2017). As such, we expect these gifts to systematically allow for transference from interpersonal relationship satisfaction to the gift. ...
... Moreover, close others often ignore recipients' preferences when selecting a gift (Givi & Galak, 2017;Ward & Broniarczyk, 2016). For this reason, the subjects of investigation in this research were primarily brands toward which self-brand connections were relatively neutral or not yet formed prior to the gift-giving scenario. ...
The present work studies a novel perspective on gift‐giving research by examining the effect of the giver–recipient relationship on the recipient–brand relationship. A study examining gift exchanges in real‐life relationships and two laboratory experiments demonstrate that the effect of the recipient’s relationship satisfaction with the gift giver on self‐brand connections and, consequently, on brand‐related behaviors is conditional on the durability of the gift. The findings are robust to manipulating the durability of the same product category and using durable and nondurable categories of the same (actual or fictitious) brand. This research offers important implications for managers who position their brands as desirable gifts.
... A third theme that traverses several of the mismatches documented in psychology-based research is too much risk aversion among givers selecting gifts. For example, givers too often shy away from sentimental gifts, which they perceive as fairly risky, and instead give gifts that match recipients' superficial tastes, which they think are safe bets to be liked to at least a minimal degree (Givi & Galak, 2017). Similarly, givers tend to choose material gifts (e.g., a watch) over experiential ones (e.g., opera tickets), because tangible goods are often perceived as relatively safe, since they typically require little information or knowledge about the recipient. ...
... Givers under-give gifts that are manifestations of relationshiporiented thoughtfulness but over-give those that are manifestations of non-relationship-oriented thoughtfulness. Regarding the former, recall that givers do not give sentimental gifts as often as recipients would prefer (Givi & Galak, 2017); sentimental gifts are typically clear manifestations of relationship-oriented thoughtfulness. Regarding the latter, many phenomena documented in psychology-based research involve givers overdelivering gifts that convey thoughtfulness but clearly leave the recipient worse off (thereby making them manifestations of non-relationship-oriented thoughtfulness). ...
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.
... Gifts are very diverse and can be classified according to criteria such as hedonistic/utilitarian, appropriate/emotionally valuable, material/experiential, desired/undesirable, instant/delayed, full/partial etc. (Givi & Galak, 2017;Kuppor et al., 2017). At this point, the preferred gifts are closely related to the culture. ...
... For example, holding the price of potential gifts constant, givers may systematically alter the types of gifts [e.g. sentimental versus superficial (Givi and Galak, 2017), desirable versus feasible (Baskin et al., 2014)] they choose based on the recipient's financial status. Also, future work could seek out and explore other instances in which other-oriented and self-oriented gifting motives work together as opposed to each other. ...
Purpose This study aims to add to the gift giving literature by examining how the wealth of a recipient impacts giver spending. The authors tested the hypotheses that givers spend more on wealthy (vs unwealthy) recipients, partially because givers anticipate a greater difference in gift-liking across expensive and cheap gifts when the recipient is wealthy, and partially because givers are more motivated to signal that they are of high financial status when the recipient is wealthy. The authors also tested whether givers’ tendency to spend more on wealthy (vs unwealthy) recipients attenuates when the recipient is someone with whom the giver has a negative (vs positive) relationship. Design/methodology/approach Eight experimental studies tested the hypotheses. These studies had participants act as givers, consider giving a gift to either a wealthy or unwealthy recipient and indicate how much money they would spend on the gift. Some studies included additional measures to test potential mediators, while another included an additional manipulation to test a potential boundary condition. Findings Gift givers spend more on gifts for wealthy (vs unwealthy) recipients, for two main reasons. On the one hand, givers are influenced by an other-oriented motive – they wish for their gift to be well-liked by the recipient and anticipate a greater difference in recipient gift-liking across expensive and cheap gifts when the recipient is wealthy. On the other hand, givers are influenced by a self-oriented motive – they wish to signal to the recipient that they are of high financial status, but this desire is stronger when the recipient is wealthy. Critically, givers are relatively unlikely to spend more on wealthy (vs unwealthy) recipients when they have a negative (vs positive) relationship with the recipient. Research limitations/implications The authors studied how the wealth of the gift recipient influences givers’ gift expenditure, but they did not examine the recipient’s perspective. Future research could address this by exploring whether recipients’ gift preferences vary based on their wealth. Practical implications Gift purchases account for a significant portion of worldwide consumer spending, making gift giving an important topic for consumers and marketers alike. The present research sheds light on a factor that has a notable impact on how much consumers spend on a gift when faced with a gift giving decision. Originality/value This manuscript contributes to the gift giving literature by exploring an important aspect that influences consumer gift expenditure (the wealth of the recipient), demonstrating a novel gift giving phenomenon [that givers spend more when giving to relatively wealthy (vs unwealthy) recipients], and shedding new light on the psychology of consumers in gift giving contexts (namely, how givers’ perceptions of recipient gift-liking, their desire to send signals of high financial status and their relationship with the recipient can influence their gifting decisions).
... On the other hand, products with high desirability appear more emotional, whereas highly feasible gifts seem more superficial. Consumers prefer to give emotional gifts to close recipients and superficial gifts to distant recipients (Goodman and Lim, 2018;Givi and Galak, 2017). In addition, brands also can reflect a sense of desirability and feasibility. ...
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.
... As such, sentimental value occurs at least in part due to the relationship a person connects to that object. Givi and Galak (2017) made a somewhat broader claim: that "sentimental value stems from an item's intangible link to a cherished aspect of one's life" (p. 474). ...
The concept spark joy has a long history in Japan but only a brief one in the U.S. This study involved interviews with 25 Japanese and 25 U.S. nationals to capture their knowledge of and interpretation for the popular concept of spark joy. We also looked for what objects brought out the emotion and the occurrence of particular meanings given to and characteristics of objects that spark joy in our participants. To spark joy generally referenced a positive emotion, though it was more specific for, lyrical, and ingrained in daily life for those from Japan, and it was tied more often to past memories for those from the U.S. For both groups, but particularly for those from the U.S., objects that sparked joy were likely to be seen as indispensable and, to a lesser extent, irreplaceable, reflecting an attachment to such objects. The objects that sparked joy typically had relational and/or self-expression meanings. Overall, the semiotic value of objects that spark joy has two sides: a combination of positive feeling and connection to self and/or other; given the owner’s belief that the objects are indispensable, however, they may also fear their loss.
Consumers often set budgets with the goal to minimize their spending. Contrary to this traditional interpretation, our research suggests that budgets can take on a different psychological meaning depending on whether the budget is for a personal or gift purchase. Across 11 studies, we find that consumers aim to spend below their budgets for personal purchases (budget minimizing) but aim to spend the entirety of their budgets for gift purchases (budget maximizing). We differentiate budget maximizing from spending maximizing, showing that gift purchasers are more likely to prefer “at-budget” than “above-budget” purchases. We also show that gift purchasers have weaker savings goals than personal purchasers—a difference that mediates the effect on their budget-minimizing and -maximizing tendencies. We explore multiple reasons that could explain why savings goals are less prevalent among gift purchasers and find an upstream role for price consciousness, guilt, and perceived specialness. Finally, we find that consumers’ preference for spending the entirety of their budgets on gifts was moderated by two separate factors: consumers’ budget slack and salience. Our research adds to the literatures on mental budgeting, gift giving, and self-other decisions.
Gifting is socially and economically important. Studies of gifting physical objects have revealed motivations, values, and the tensions between them, while HCI research has revealed weaknesses of digital gifting and explored possibilities of hybrid gifting. We report an ‘in the wild’ study of a hybrid chocolate gift deployed as a commercial product. Interviews reveal the experiences of receivers and givers, as well as the producer's friction points and tangible benefits. We reveal how in hybrid gifts the digital elevates the physical while the physical grounds the digital. We discuss how hybrid gifts bridge the tension between receiver-preference and relationship-signalling motivations, the need to further strengthen the exchange and reveal stages of hybrid gifting, and to manage the privacy of sensitive personal messages. We propose to extend the concept of hybrid wrapping to include a finer-grained interleaving of digital into complex packaging and multi-layered wrappings to create more holistic gifting experiences.
Givers can add high emotional value to their gifts with empathy, surprises, and the commitment of effort and sacrifice. However, this value is not an objective quantity, but exists only in the mind of the recipient. Therefore, it is important for givers to create the conditions in which their empathetic considerations and thoughts, as well as their physical, time and financial efforts and sacrifices, can be recognized and thus appreciated by the recipient. It is also important for them to avoid negative surprises and to ensure that their gift is truly about the recipient and not about themselves.
Full-text available
Sentimental value is a highly prevalent, yet largely understudied phenomenon. We introduce the construct of sentimental value and investigate how and why sentimental value influences hedonic adaptation. Across 7 studies, we examine the antecedents of sentimental value and demonstrate its effect on hedonic adaptation using both naturally occurring and experimentally manipulated items with sentimental value. We further test the underlying process linking sentimental value and hedonic adaptation by showing that whereas feature-related utility decreases for all items with time, sentimental value typically does not, and that sentimental value moderates the influence of the decrement in feature-related utility on hedonic adaptation. Moreover, this moderating effect of sentimental value is driven by a shift in focus from features of the item to the associations that item possess. We conclude with a discussion of related phenomena and implications for individuals. (PsycINFO Database Record
Full-text available
This article looks at the trade-offs that gift givers and gift receivers make between desirability and feasibility using construal level theory as a framework. Focusing on the asymmetric distance from a gift that exists within giver-receiver dyads, the authors propose that, unlike receivers, givers construe gifts abstractly and therefore weight desirability attributes more than feasibility attributes. Support for this proposition emerges in studies examining giver and receiver mind-sets, as well as giver and receiver evaluations of gifts. Furthermore, givers do not choose gifts that maximize receiver happiness or other relationship goals even though givers believe they are doing so. Finally, the authors demonstrate that while givers are sensitive to their distance from the receiver, receivers are not sensitive to this distance.
Full-text available
Three experiments tested our social values analysis of self–other differences in decision making under risk. In Experiment 1, we showed that people make riskier decisions for others in domains where risk taking is valued but not in those where risk is not valued. Experiment 2 documented that it is considered more inappropriate to make a risk-averse decision for another person than for oneself in situations where risk is valued. Experiment 3 showed that self–other differences in decision making occur even when there are no self–other differences in prediction and for decisions made for a typical student as well as for a friend. We use these results to argue that decision making for others is based predominantly on the perceived value placed on risk, leading to a norm for how to decide for others in situations where such a social value exists.
Full-text available
Gift-giving involves both the objective value of a gift and the symbolic meaning of the exchange. The objective value is sometimes considered of secondary importance as when people claim, "It's the thought that counts." We evaluated when and how mental state inferences count in gift exchanges. Because considering another's thoughts requires motivation and deliberation, we predicted gift givers' thoughts would increase receivers' appreciation only when triggered to consider a giver's thoughts, such as when a friend gives a bad gift. Because gift givers do not experience this trigger, we expected they would mispredict when their thoughts count and when they do not. Three experiments support these predictions. A final experiment demonstrated that thoughts "count" for givers by increasing social connection to the receiver. These results suggest that mental state inferences are not automatic in social interactions and that inferences about how much thoughts count are systematically miscalibrated. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).
Prior research on gift giving has often treated “making recipients happy” as interchangeable with “improving recipients’ welfare.” We propose givers’ motive to make recipients happy is better understood as a desire to induce positive affective reactions, such as a smile from recipients. This “smile-seeking” motive yields a mismatch between gift choices and recipients’ preferences, because attributes that promote recipient happiness upon gift reception are often not the same attributes that augment recipients’ overall welfare. We find a considerable givers-recipients preference discrepancy that cannot be explained by extant theories of perspective taking (Studies 1 & 2), is mitigated when the affective reactions are not immediately obtainable (Studies 3 & 4), and is mediated by the anticipation of these affective reactions (Studies 4 & 5). Moreover, in a longitudinal field survey (Study 6), givers derive more enjoyment from their observation of the recipients’ initial affective reactions than from their observation of recipients’ long-term satisfaction. Our findings challenge extant assumptions about gift-giving motives, and attest to the importance of affective reactions in interpersonal decision making.
Gift givers balance their goal to please recipients with gifts that match recipient preferences against their own goal to signal relational closeness with gifts that demonstrate their knowledge of the recipient. Five studies in a gift registry context show that when close (vs. distant) givers receive attribution for the gifts they choose, they are more likely to diverge from the registry to choose items that signal their close relationships. The authors find that close givers' divergence from the registry is not the result of their altruistic search for a "better" gift but is a strategic effort to express relational signals: it occurs only when givers will receive attribution for their choice. They show that close givers reconcile their goal conflict by engaging in motivated reasoning, which results in their perceptual distortion of the gift options in favor of relational-signaling gifts. Ironically, distant givers are more likely to choose gifts from the registry, resulting in the selection of items that better match recipient preferences.
Discusses the magical status possessions acquire when they transcend ordinary utilitarian status and suggests some concepts behind this phenomenon. Categories of special possessions include (1) parts of self (cosmetics, jewelry, clothing); (2) extensions of self (home, vehicle, pets); (3) objects of magic, science, and religion (icons, talismans, drugs); (4) memory laden objects (gifts, heirlooms); and (5) rare and mysterious possessions (treasure, relics of famous people). Tests for nonrational relations with objects are outlined. An eclectic set of concepts is presented to sketch theoretical perspectives that account for the mysteries of possessions. The concepts presented include fetishism, singularity and sacredness, self extension, and meaning displacement. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Evidence from 4 studies with 584 undergraduates demonstrates that social observers tend to perceive a "false consensus" with respect to the relative commonness of their own responses. A related bias was shown to exist in the observers' social inferences. Thus, raters estimated particular responses to be relatively common and relatively unrevealing concerning the actors' distinguishing personal dispositions when the responses in question were similar to the raters' own responses; responses differing from those of the rater, by contrast, were perceived to be relatively uncommon and revealing of the actor. These results were obtained both in questionnaire studies presenting Ss with hypothetical situations and choices and in authentic conflict situations. The implications of these findings for the understanding of social perception phenomena and for the analysis of the divergent perceptions of actors and observers are discussed. Cognitive and perceptual mechanisms are proposed which might account for distortions in perceived consensus and for corresponding biases in social inference and attributional processes. (33 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Five studies show that gift recipients are more appreciative of gifts they explicitly request than those they do not. In contrast, gift givers assume that both solicited and unsolicited gifts will be equally appreciated. At the root of this dilemma is a difference of opinion about what purchasing an unsolicited gift signals: gift givers expect unsolicited gifts will be considered more thoughtful and considerate by their intended recipients than is actually the case (, and ). In our final two studies, we highlight two boundary conditions for this effect: identifying a specific gift and using money as a gift. When gift recipients request one specific gift, rather than providing a list of possible gifts, givers become more willing to purchase the requested gift (Study 4). Further, although givers believe that recipients do not appreciate receiving money as much as receiving a solicited gift, recipients feel the opposite about these two gift options (Study 5).