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The perfect gift for your dad

The perfect gift is what you like best
The perfect gift is what you like best

This Sunday – 18 June – is Father’s day: a good day to surprise your dad with the perfect gift. What could that be? Researchers from Erasmus University have investigated…

So your dad is the best dad in the whole wide world. You love him to pieces, and to show him, you want to give him the perfect Father’s day gift. But come to think of it, what is it he really likes? A pair of new socks? A nice CD? A barbecue set? He’s probably already been given those a billion times.

Who Likes the Present?
While trying to find a present for his mother two years ago, Gabriele Paolacci, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Rotterdam School of Management, did some research on the perfect gift. Although there had been studies on matching gifts to recipients’ tastes and the connection between giver and recipient, no one had really looked at how a perceived connection between the giver and the gift affected how the recipient felt about the gift. Until Paolacci gave that idea further thought: ‘As I was looking around for the right gift, I began to wonder whether I should choose something I thought she would like, or something that I liked that I thought she would like too.’

Gift from the Core
‘To find an answer to the question of whether people prefer gifts that have some connection to the giver, we undertook four studies with the participants being students from Erasmus University Rotterdam, US residents recruited on Amazon Mechanical Turk, and Dutch adults. Our respondents’ answers suggest that people preferred gifts that reflected some core quality of the giver – a reference to a place the giver knew well or something about their passions.

‘Gifts that have some narrative information attached, such as a picture of Paris from somebody who loves Paris, or a CD from an avid music fan, meant more to the receiver than a present that had no personal connection at all. But this reflective aspect of the present has to be a core quality. It can’t be that you saw me playing baseball once and so I give you a baseball; it has to reflect something important about me.’

Something you Like  
Interestingly; this seems to be true regardless of whether we like the giver. Even when recipients aren’t crazy about the giver, they still prefer a gift that shows some kind of consistency between the giver and the gift. There seems to be an innate enjoyment of this kind of correspondence.

Paolacci explains: ‘For gift-givers, the results of our study suggest that if you don’t really know a person you’re buying a present for, you may be better off trying to buy for your own taste than for that of your recipient. After all, you know yourself a lot better than you know them. The kind of thing given may matter too. For instance, it seems likely, although we didn’t prove it in our studies, that the personal connection may be easier to establish in a gift that is mostly intellectual or cultural, such as a book or music.’

Between East and West
One possible exception may have to do with the address on your gift-wrapped package. In East Asia, for example, seeking interpersonal harmony tends to be valued more than being consistent and true to oneself, which may make the congruence between the gift and the giver’s identity of less interest than it is in the West.

So what present should we give our fathers? ‘That I can’t tell you,’ Paolacci says. ‘My mother liked Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, but if you’re not a decision-making scholar, it might not be the best gift.’

This article draws its inspiration for the paper Give Me Your Self: Gifts are Liked More When They Match the Giver’s Characteristics, written by Gabriele Paolacci, Laura Straeter and Ilona de Hooge, and published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Volume 25, Issue 3, July 2015, p487-494. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2015.01.006

Original interview published in RSM Discovery Magazine 23. More information about and back copies of RSM Discovery Magazine can be found here.