Relational signaling and gift giving

Relational signaling and gift giving

July 24, 20181 min read

Prior research indicates that gift givers are motivated by competing goals. Often, they will simply select an item of the recipient’s choosing. However, gift givers are also likely to select an item on their own to help show knowledge of the recipient and further define and maintain a personal connection. Morgan Ward, assistant professor of marketing, and coauthor Susan Broniarczyk (U Texas) take the research a step further by analyzing how the closeness of a relationship further impacts the gift-giving decision when a gift registry is readily available. The duo employed five separate studies with human subjects presented with various gift-giving scenarios. The paper notes, “We find that despite their stated primary intention to please recipients, close (vs. distant) givers ultimately are more likely to ignore recipients’ explicit registry preferences in favor of freely chosen gifts.” Ward and Broniarczyk conclude that divergence from the registry was not necessarily about finding a better gift. Instead, it occurred only when givers specifically received attribution for their selection. The closeness of the personal connection resulted in a “perceptual distortion of the gift options in favor of relational-signaling gifts.” Distant givers were much more likely to pick an item from the registry, selecting gifts closely aligned with recipients’ preferences.


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