They say appearances can be deceiving. In the case of gift giving, they might be right.
Consumers in the U.S. spend billions of dollars a year on wrapping gifts, in most cases to make their presents look as good as possible. This includes money spent on paper, boxes, ribbon and pretty bows.
While some people are particularly skilled at gift wrapping – with the perfect folds, carefully tied ribbons and bows – others aren’t quite cut out for it, and apparently would prefer washing dishes or cleaning the house.
Two colleagues and I wondered whether all that time and effort is actually worth it. Does a beautiful presentation actually lead to a better-liked gift? Or is it the other way around?
Sloppy versus neat
In a paper recently published by the Journal of Consumer Psychology, University of Nevada, Reno professors Jessica Rixom and Brett Rixom and I conducted three experiments to explore the impact of gift wrapping.
In the first experiment, we recruited 180 university students to come to a behavioral lab in Miami to participate in a research study described as an extra credit exercise. Upon arrival, each student was given an actual gift as a token of appreciation for their participation.
The gift was a coffee mug with the logo of one of two NBA basketball teams, the local Miami Heat or rival Orlando Magic, handed out at random. We knew that every participant was a fan of the Heat based on a prior survey – and that they explicitly didn’t support the Magic. The purpose was to ensure that we were giving half of the students a desirable gift, while the other half received something they did not want.
Finally, half of the gifts were wrapped neatly, while the rest looked slapdash.