The Psychology of Gifting

With the holiday season upon us, and a barrage of company and personal events looming, when it comes to the art of gift giving, what type of gifter are you? Would you consider yourself to be an emotionally evocative gift giver? Creating an experience with the thoughtful gifts you carefully choose. Or are you a re-gifter? Someone who sorts through the stash of gifts you’ve received and look for something that is somewhat appropriate or good enough? Or do you order a bunch of the same item and personalise them to make it look like you put in a lot of time and effort? There are many tricks we all use to get through this season, but new research in gift giving suggests that when giving gifts, giving an experience, can strengthen our relationships and make our gifts more memorable. So, when it comes to giving gifts, how is your gift experienced?

The question of how our brains memorise experiences greatly influences how our gifts are received, and this idea has intrigued cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists alike The related research, indicates that a significant correlation has been observed between our emotional state at the time the event occurs and how that affects our ability to memorise the details of it. How this pertains to gifts, is that how we feel at the time of receiving one, will play a huge role in how we remember everything associated with it; the giver, the venue, the company and the opportunity. Psychologist call this association theory and it should play a big role when considering gifts for your next event

The findings of a series of studies have implied that emotion plays a role at various stages when remembering, or encoding, information, consolidating memories and during the recall of our experiences at a later date.

In 1977, researchers at Harvard published a paper entitled “Flash Bulb”, in which they noted that people are able to vividly recollect where they were when an event occurred that was significant to them. They used the example of the assassination of U.S. president John F. Kennedy, but many people will hold similarly detailed memories of what they were doing when they learned of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, or the death of a famous person such as Princess Diana or Michael Jackson. Unlike a photographic memory, these Flash Bulb memories tend only to occur when the event is felt to be of particular significance to a person, or when it causes a state of amazement or surprise, supporting the idea that a person’s experience and associated emotional state at the time of an event can influence whether or not it is encoded as a significant memory.

Our experiences and the emotions associated, are believed to play a role in determining whether we can vividly recall a stored memory at the time we try to revisit it. Coaxing ourselves into the same mood we experienced when we first witnessed an event, for instance, it has been found to often have a positive effect on our chances of recalling specific details relating to it.

This research suggests that our brains are more likely to focus on stimuli of emotional significance when storing memories and their related experiences.

Cast your mind back to all those personalised pens you may have received that looked great at first glance, but upon grabbing it out of the box, and realising it weighed next to nothing, your excitement instantly diminished. Then, when you wrote with it, and mid word it scribed only a dent on the page, leaving behind no ink, you tossed it in your drawer, never to remember it, or the event associated, again. Rendering the event, campaign and organisation who gifted it to you, useless and unmemorable.

The effect of emotions associated with memories that we forget, has been identified in the form of the fading affect bias. This bias leads us to forget memories of negative emotional valence, and instead, focus on memories which affect us more positively. Idealised memories from childhood, for instance, may be due to our minds focussing on the positive, rather than negative events that occurred whilst growing up.

Now, remember those gifts that struck a chord with you; be it a quality leather bag, a doll house your favourite Uncle bought you, or bottle of fine Champagne. These gifts remain ingrained in your memory because they automatically associated positive engaging emotion, which in turn activated your experience of the event and its collection of sensory inputs related to your long term memory. This is the touch point association you want to apply when considering how to gift with your event audience. If their positive experience, in this case a gift and associated experience that can be shared, your touch points multiply as the receiver enjoys it and shares their experience with their friends and extended network.

Emotionally charged situations can lead us to create longer lasting memories of events, including the gifts we receive. When we are led to experience feelings of delight, amazement or surprise, vivid recollections are often more possible than during everyday situations, in which we feel little or no emotional attachment.

You can begin to get the picture on the role that psychology plays when it comes to the art of gift giving. Many of us have the mindset that anything is better than nothing, but in this case, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
My suggestion? As we enter into the season of giving and receiving, do you research, find out what your guests will love, make it thoughtful, create a positive experience and see your relationships flourish!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *