Weatherford Democrat

Online Only

May 8, 2014

Mom doesn't want you to be thoughtful Sunday

WASHINGTON — When selecting a gift for Mother's Day, or any other occasion, don't try to be "thoughtful." Choose the gift the recipient will like best. Don't confuse what you know with what she feels.

That may sound obvious, but it isn't. A growing body of psychological research suggests that gift givers pay too much attention to the inputs of gift selection - the price, how much trouble they went to, what they got for other people - and too little to what they know about what's likely to make the recipient happy.

This work shows that "people tend to be egocentric when making choices for others and that they often fail to recognize that their own perspective may differ from the perspective of those for whom they are choosing," write Mary Steffel of the University of Cincinnati and Robyn A. LeBoeuf of the University of Florida in a recent article in the Journal of Consumer Research. The article's title gives away the results: "Overindividuation in Gift Giving: Shopping for Multiple Recipients Leads Givers to Choose Unique but Less Preferred Gifts."

Consider one of their experiments. Participants read Facebook profiles describing either one or two imagined cousins (Steph and Sarah). One was supposed to be from the mother's side of the family, the other from the father's, making the two less likely to know each other. The profiles included a list of each cousin's favorite movies. All of Sarah's were animated films. Five out of seven on Steph's list also were animated; the other two were science fiction/fantasy movies.

Participants were then given a list of 10 movie DVDs in six genres, including the Pixar animated hit "Up" and two science fiction/fantasy movies. Some participants were asked to choose a DVD for Steph's birthday after reading only her profile; a second group picked a DVD for her after reading both profiles; and a third group was told to select DVDs as birthday presents for both cousins. Those choosing gifts for both cousins were explicitly told they could give them the same movie. Three parallel groups were asked simply to predict which movie Steph or both cousins would use a gift certificate to purchase on their own.

Both cousins' lists showed they liked animated films most, making "Up" the best bet for a successful present. That's also the film the vast majority of people in all three prediction groups - including 75 percent of those predicting for both cousins - imagined that Steph would choose for herself.

But when it came to choosing gifts, people acted differently. As long as they were picking a DVD only for Steph, more than 80 percent still went for "Up." But a mere 43 percent of those selecting presents for both cousins gave Steph the animated movie she was most likely to enjoy. They paid more attention to what made her different from Sarah than they did to what she liked. They let the irrelevant circumstances of shopping for a second person trump what they knew about her taste.

Trying to be "thoughtful," it seems, leads people to be thoughtless.

Testing that conclusion directly in another experiment, Steffel and LeBoeuf found that participants given more time and encouraged to shop "thoughtfully" did worse than those given limited time and told not to "overthink" the decision. "Givers may, paradoxically, get worse gifts the more they try to be especially thoughtful," they write, "as their focus on giving individuated gifts may make them lose focus on getting the best-liked gifts." (Another experiment found that givers weren't going for variety for its own sake and only mixed up the selection when there was a difference in the movies listed by the two cousins.)

This research has the faults of most psychology experiments. It draws broad, if tentative, conclusions from a relatively small sample, only 168 participants, and it's explicitly limited to the United States (the authors note that gift-giving customs could affect results elsewhere). But it rings true. It's hard to see the world through other people's eyes - even when we're buying them gifts.

               

         

 

1
Text Only
Online Only
  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 29, 2014 3 Photos

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 1.33.11 PM.png VIDEO: High-dive accident caught on tape

    A woman at a water park in Idaho leaped off a 22-foot high dive platform, then tried to pull herself back up with frightening results. Fortunately, she escaped with only a cut to her finger.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brother sues W.Va. senator over business loan

    U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's brother claims he's owed $1.7 million that he loaned to keep a family carpet out of bankruptcy in the 1980s.

    July 28, 2014

  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 28, 2014

  • HallofFameBraves.jpg Hall of Fame adds businesslike Braves, Frank Thomas, managers La Russa and Torre

    Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and their manager, Bobby Cox, dominated much of baseball during the 1990s. This weekend they went into the Hall of Fame together.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    July 26, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Inequality crisis shot with factual problems, hypocrisy

    President Obama, various media and political liberals say inequality, of all things, is the defining issue of our times. Yet this message is delivered by multimillionaires and a president who jets from tee time to stump speech on the taxpayer's dime.
     

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Better police needed for college teams enticed to cheat

    The NCAA once cracked down on colleges that went too far luring top prospects, then it targeted teams that lathered players with special treatment. That was until the NCAA's get-tough approach backfired, rendering it ineffective and creating an opportunity for those who want to play dirty.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates

    On the other hand, with a net favorability of -8, Jar Jar is considerably more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently enjoys a net favorability rating of -65.

    July 25, 2014