The gifts we keep on giving

Birthdays, graduations, Christmas, baby showers, bridal showers, bar and bat mitzvahs, Mother's Day, Father's Day, first marriages (and second.. and third…), wedding anniversaries, the spontaneous friendship gesture, the occasional sorry-about-that gesture, hostess gifts and presents that don't even fall into a recognizable category. The year is filled with opportunities and obligations to give and receive.

So who can blame someone for doing a little recycling, or as it is commonly known, regifting? Not the person who actually gave the original gift, despite what a regifter may think.

In an article to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers from Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Harvard and the London Business School explore the whole question of regifting from the perspective of both the original giver and the receiver who may or may not rewrap and regift.

In five studies they investigate whether the practice of "regifting", which is a social taboo, really is as offensive to givers as regifters assume. Over and over again, participants who had received gifts and were told to contemplate regifting thought that the original givers would be more offended than givers reported feeling.

"Regifitng isn't bad," said Gabrielle Adams from the London Business School. "In fact it is one way to ensure that gifts are passed along to those who will truly enjoy them. People shouldn't be afraid to pass along a gift they received to someone else."

In one study, 178 participants were divided into the roles of givers and receivers. They all read a scenario in which they were asked to imagine that they had recently been given a watch as a graduation gift. Givers were asked to imagine that the receiver had either regfited the watch to a friend or had thrown the watch in the trash. Receivers were asked to imagine that they had either regifted or trashed the watch.

The reactions to each scenario were measured on a five point "offensiveness" scale, which ranged from "very slightly or not at all" to extremely offended. Those who contemplated regifting the watch or pitching it, were asked to rate how offended the giver would be with either scenario. Givers did the same.

Givers were less offended when they learned that the receiver had regifted the watch than when they learned the receiver threw the gift away. But those who received the gift believed that givers would be equally offended no matter what option they took. They basically equated regifting with discarding.

"The finding that receivers think that regifting is as bad as throwing a gift in the trash was particularly interesting to us, " said Adams. "Givers thought throwing a gift away would be much worse than regifting it."

It all boils down to beliefs about entitlement, researchers say. Receivers feel that givers should have a say in what happens to their gifts, while givers feel that receivers are entitled to do whatever they like with a gift.

How to get everyone on the same page? Just add another holiday to the giving list; this one could be called National Regifting Day. Adams explains, "It turns out that National Regifting Day is one way to make receivers think regifting is less offensive."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The Thought Is What Counts

Dec 22, 2009

Holiday gift givers who expect to be appreciated for choosing the most expensive gifts are likely to be disappointed when their presents are unwrapped. Cost has little impact on how much we value the gifts we receive, according ...

The paradox of gift giving: More not better, says new study

Dec 12, 2011

Holiday shoppers, take note. Marketing and psychology researchers have found that in gift giving, bundling together an expensive "big" gift and a smaller "stocking stuffer" reduces the perceived value of the overall package ...

Bad gifts may be history with Amazon's idea

Dec 29, 2010

(AP) -- For some, it's the red reindeer Christmas sweater. For others, it's the diamond-encrusted dreidel. Whatever your worst gift nightmare might be, Amazon may soon give you a reason to cheer.

Recommended for you

Teenage self-harm linked to problems in later life

4 hours ago

Those who self-harm as teenagers are more at risk of developing mental health and substance misuse problems as adults, new research from the biggest study of its kind in the UK has revealed.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RogerEllman
not rated yet May 08, 2012
I think it makes clear sense that the knowledge of the spirit of the giver, the "the way you say it is like the way you give it", improves the good feelings of the rceiver.

I would also say that comparing this with a "quetsionless" giving as in giving a message of gratitude or tribute (a la Thankly.net where there is a simple giving of gratitude or appreciation) shows a significant split of two types of gifts. One type needs for best effect, to be explained, the other does not.
Roger