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This Holiday Season, Get Your Romantic Partner Exactly What He or She Wants

As the gift giving swings into full gear, the pressure is on to find that perfect gift for your significant other. But what sort of present will best communicate your affections? Should you scour the mall (or internet) in search of new gift-giving inspiration? Or should you “stick to the list”, and just give your partner what he or she wished for?

In a study on gift-giving, participants imagined1 either that they were trying to find a present for their romantic partners or that their partners were trying to find a present for them. When participants took the role of the “gift giver”, many believed that they should try to find a gift that was not on their partner’s wish list.  By ignoring the list and finding an alternate present, participants seemed to believe the rogue gift would communicate thoughtfulness and effort. But when participants took the role of the “gift receiver” they were actually more appreciative, and saw their partners as being more thoughtful, when their partners gave them a gift from their wish list rather than an alternative present.  The researchers also found similar effects for non-romantic relationships (e.g., friendships, parents): regardless of how close the gift recipient felt to the gift giver, wished-for gifts were always preferred. This effect held even when there was only one item on the wish list. So it would seem that surprises are over-rated!

Although we like to go the extra mile to delight our loved ones, it looks like we’re actually better off buying them exactly what they asked for. As well as we may know our partners, we simply aren’t mind-readers: it’s very difficult to choose presents for people that are even better than the gifts they would have chosen for themselves. Furthermore, people very much appreciate receiving gifts that they wished for, not only because it’s exactly what they wanted, but also because it shows thoughtfulness and responsiveness on the part of the gift giver.

So if you want to thrill your partners this holiday season, simply ask them what they want, and then give it to them. They’re sure to love it!

If you're planning on getting something on your partner's wish list, consider supporting SofR by shopping on Amazon.com via this link. (or Amazon.ca here)

Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed.

1Gino, F., & Flynn, F. J. (2011). Give them what they want: The benefits of explicitness in gift exchange. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 915-922.

Samantha Joel - Science of Relationships articles
Samantha's research examines how people make decisions about their romantic relationships. For example, what sort of factors do people take into consideration when they try to decide whether to pursue a potential date, invest in a new relationship, or break up with a romantic partner? 

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