Better to give or receive? Just ask the academy

December 17, 2009

You may know the feeling: it's Christmas Day but amid the festivities you are racked with anxiety. Will the presents you have chosen be met with a shrug rather than a shriek of joy?

The question of why gift-giving can be a tortuous ordeal is among the festive themes explored by researchers, whose work appears in a "Tis the Season" list of the most cited papers with a giving theme.

Third in the ranking, compiled for Times Higher Education by science-data provider Thomson Reuters, is "Qualitative steps towards an expanded model of anxiety in gift-giving" (2000), published by D.B. Wooten in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"Givers become anxious when they are highly motivated to elicit desired reactions from their recipients but are pessimistic about their prospects of success," it concludes.

The paper topping the list is "Gift selection for easy and difficult recipients: A social roles interpretation"(1993), published in the same journal.

It uses "interpretive techniques" to explore what Christmas shoppers mean when they describe people as being "easy" or "difficult" to choose gifts for.

"We argue that recipients are described as such because they either help or hinder givers' attempts to express specific social roles through exchange," the study says. It identifies six roles that givers attach to recipients: "pleaser", "provider", "compensator", "socialiser", "acknowledger" and "avoider".

When it comes to the perennial question of whether it is better to give than receive, could it be true that, contrary to popular belief, women thrive on getting rather than giving? The answer is yes, if the paper "Is it better to give than receive? Exploring gender differences in the meaning of memorable gifts" (1998) is to be believed.

The paper, published in the journal Psychology & Marketing, says: "Surprisingly, given the more prominent role of women in gift-giving, four of the five female profiles involved memories of receiving rather than giving." It was men who tended to recall gift-giving experiences.

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