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Study: giving a gift that reflects you rather than your valentine strengthens relationships

February 08, 2017
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By Diane Luckow

SFU psychologist Lara Aknin has a tip for Valentine’s gifters. If you want to ensure your gift inspires feelings of closeness, give a gift that reflects you rather than your valentine.

Aknin and her collaborator, professor Lauren Human of McGill University, conducted six studies examining what types of gifts we should choose when trying to foster a connection with those we care about. Their results were published in a paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2015.

Aknin discovered, surprisingly, that while people generally prefer to give and receive gifts that reflect the recipient’s likes and interests, givers and receivers tend to feel greater closeness from gifts that reflect the giver.

Why?

The researchers developed several hypotheses. First, there’s an inherent risk in selecting a gift to suit your Valentine. While giving a gift that reflects you as the giver is easier to do, giving a gift that reflects the recipient can be harder. If you get it wrong, the whole affair can go sideways in a hurry.

Second: giver-centric gifts can be a way to share a piece of yourself with someone else. For example, one study participant recalled enjoying a book of poems that spoke of and to her, so she gave the book as a gift to someone she cared about.

Or, since many couples and friends often have shared interests, it’s likely that what one person likes might also suit the other.

Which isn’t to say that giving a gift that reflects the recipient is a bad thing.

“When people do a good job of giving recipient-focused gifts, it does lead to higher levels of closeness,” says Aknin. “But in many situations, we don’t necessarily know what gift might truly suit the recipient.”