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How to Find the Perfect Gift: A Look at the Science Behind Giving and Receiving

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Gift giving is a traditional part of the holidays, and now scientists are starting to unravel the science behind gift giving. Most people enjoy giving and receiving gifts, whether they are small presents for Hanukkah, or larger Christmas presents, but the psychology of gift-giving goes far beyond those simple feelings.

Yale School of Management researchers examined gift choices made by gift-givers, and how the presents were received by people. One finding of the group was that convenience, and usability of a gift is often overlooked by those buying presents.

"Previous studies on gift-giving have found a number of systematic biases in givers' ability to understand what it is a receiver wants. We think we've added a new one - we think a fairly fundamental one - that crops up in a lot of situations. [We have] this idea that givers focus too much on the desirability of a gift and don't think enough about its convenience or its ease of use," Nathan Novemsky from the Yale School of Management said.

Giving gifts without considering how easily they can be used can lead to disappointment among people receiving the presents, according to researchers. This is often brought about when gift-givers become so concerned with obtaining a gift the receiver wants, that ease-of-use is not considered in the selection.

Computer software and smartphone applications were among the gifts where this balance was most noted. People giving gifts tend to select apps that were complex, and full of features, while those receiving gifts preferred simpler programs, with less of a learning curve.

"Givers really want to give gifts that are desirable, and they think that receivers will like them and that will improve their relationship with the givers. Receivers actually prefer gifts that are slightly more practical," Ernest Baskin, lead author of a paper announcing results of the study, stated in a university press release.

Researchers also quizzed pairs of people, asking whether they would rather receive a heavy, feature-filled pen, or a simpler, lighter one as a gift. They found most people would rather be given the simpler writing utensil. Gift-givers, however, were more likely to choose the state-of-the-art pen when choosing presents to give to loved ones.

Researchers conducted the study through a series of questionnaires. Subjects were asked about actual gifts they had given or received over their lives, as well as hypothetical scenarios.

"An unexpected phone call, visit or letter - these too are gifts. Used well, gifts can heal an old wound, make a new connection, deepen an existing one, or reaffirm a romance. When we get it right, the gift furthers endless rounds of giving and receiving," Harry Liebersohn, an expert on the history of gift giving, said.

Investigators believe advertisers could maximize their profits by gearing ads for simple gifts toward gift-receivers, and more complex products to those buying presents.

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