Think of Your Significant Other and You on Valentine’s Day. By Elizabeth Swain and Sydney O’Neil

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Gift-giving is a long standing tradition for givers and recipients to foster the relationship they have together and increase social connectedness.  Psychologists have pondered which gift-giving behavior is more effective in increasing closeness in a relationship: gifts that reflect the giver (giver-centric gifts) or gifts that reflect the recipient (recipient-centric gifts).  One may assume that recipient-centric gifts are the most efficient in enhancing a social relationship as gifts are intended for the recipient, but this intuitive response may be misleading.  If the gift does not accurately reflect the recipient, this is not true.  Giver-centric gifts may be more effective in increasing social closeness as self-disclosure feels rewarding for the giver and will then promote happiness for both the giver and receiver and thus enhance overall closeness.  Aknin and Human hypothesized that participants, both givers and receivers, would report a preference for recipient-centric gifts, but also hypothesized that giver-centric gifts would actually produce greater social closeness than recipient-centric gifts on the premise that giver-centric gifts.


To examine the relationship between gift giving and relationships, a study of 303 participants, 51% of which identified as female, and 49% who identified as males, were randomly assigned to one of two online questionnaires. These questionnaires asked the participants if they could recall the last time they gave a gift that either revealed their true self, a giver-centric gift, or revealed their knowledge of the participant, a recipient-centric gift. The participants were asked, specifically, to describe in great detail the gift that either somehow portrayed their true character or passions. They were also asked to describe, in detail, the last gift they received. In order to make a proper assessment of the consequences of giver and recipient centric gifts, participants were instructed to recall their feelings of closeness before and after the gift was given. In order to properly measure the participant’s feelings of closeness, the researchers had the participants use the Inclusion of Other in Self Scare, also known as the IOS scale. By using this scale the participants were asked to move circles closer together or farther apart in order to portray their feelings of closeness. The results showed that the last gift participants gave revealed their knowledge of the recipient and the last gift they received indicated the giver’s knowledge of themselves. In addition to these results, the researchers also examined the results of whether people felt greater gains in closeness after giving a giver-centric gift or giving a recipient-centric gift. The results stated that givers offering giver-centric gifts felt significantly more closeness.


Indeed, Aknin and Human were correct in their hypothesis.  Giver-centric gifts are efficient as fostering social relationships.  This relates back to early views on gift-giving, that  gift-giving is a form of self-expression that is meant for bonding.  Giver-centric gifts serve as an act of self disclosure, communicating something about the giver, and self-disclosure tends to enhance liking for both the discloser and the one being disclosed to.  In regard to this study, giver-centric gifts express something about the giver and in turn increases liking between giver and recipient and thus social closeness.  Recipient-centric gifts promote the most social closeness, but is often executed inadequately and decreases potential for enhancing social closeness.  So while the common thought is that gifts should be presented with the recipient in mind, giver-centric gifts can actually be just as, if not more, effective in promoting closeness in a social relationship.  


A possible flaw in this study, and something to consider while reading these results, is that all relationships differ and each person’s perception of their relationship, before and after a gift is given, is subjective. In addition, all humans are evidently different. It is possible that the majority of the people surveyed are materialistic. Materialistic people would respond differently when receiving a gift because they are more likely to value objects over emotions. Another critique to consider when reading this study is that the participants are not asked to recall a specific holiday. Specific holidays, like Valentine’s Day, for example, can heighten the stakes and expectations of a gift which could lead to possible enhanced disappointment or enhanced happiness. Therefore altering their answers.


Overall it is clear that next Valentine’s Day, whether you keep the recipient or yourself in mind you can’t go wrong in enhancing the closeness in your relationship!


L.B. Aknin and L.J. Human, “Give a piece of you: Gifts that reflect givers promote closeness,” J. Exp. Soc. Psychol., vol. 60, pp 8-16, Sept. 2015.

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