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Regifting: A Gift-Giver’s Hidden Shame

Ever get a gift that was so perfect for you that you actually already had the gifted item? Or maybe you received a gift that was so awful that you wondered if the giver knew you at all. (Sure, it’s the thought that counts, but what were they thinking?!) These are the times when gift receipts and generous store return policies come in handy. But if exchanges aren’t allowed, we may find ourselves contemplating “regifting” (i.e., giving the unwanted gift to someone else), especially with National Regifting Day approaching on the Thursday before Christmas. We may feel ashamed or opportunistic, however, about presenting someone with a gift we didn’t want ourselves in light of the distinct social taboo against the practice of regifting. (Remember Elaine’s indignant “He recycled this gift! He’s a regifter!” on Seinfeld?). Additionally, we may fear that the original giver of the gift would be offended. Is this worry justified?

Using both hypothetical and actual scenarios, a group of researchers explored the taboo of regifting in a series of five studies to see how original givers (the ones who gave the gift first) and regifters (the ones regifting a gift) felt about regifting.1 In the first study, participants were asked to imagine that they were either (1) the original giver (who gave a gift to a friend that was subsequently regifted) or (2) the regifter (who received a gift and decided to give it to a second recipient). In a later study, participants (again in the roles of original giver and potential regifter) imagined that the gift was either regifted or thrown away. All participants rated how offended the original giver might be. Results indicated that:

  • Regifters thought the original givers would be more offended to have their gift regifted than original givers actually reported feeling.
  • When considering the original giver’s feelings, regifters thought regifting an undesirable gift or throwing it away would be equally offensive, whereas the original givers preferred the idea of regifting over outright disposal.

A third study had trios of friends regift predetermined “bad gifts” (e.g., a magazine for retired people, a weight-loss cookbook, a DVD about Mandy Moore’s life) in a laboratory setting, with each friend rating how much input the original giver should have in what the regifter did with the gift. The results showed that regifters thought the original giver of a gift should have some say in what was done with an unwanted gift, whereas original givers were less likely to feel this level of investment. The final two studies attempted to determine whether normalizing regifting would change attitudes toward it. Potential regifters who were told it was National Regifting Day were more likely to regift their unwanted gifts and also thought the original giver would be less offended by it.

Note that none of the above studies examined regifting in romantic relationships. Thus, lovers may want to proceed with caution. If George splurges and gets the latest iSomething for Susan, but what she really covets is an autographed edition of O. Henry’s classic, “The Gift of the Magi,” then yes, George could be upset if Susan decides to regift her new iSomething. Knowing your partner well enough to guess his or her reaction to regifting is helpful if you want to regift something he or she gave to you. Word to the wise, experiential gifts, such as home-cooked meals, concert tickets, or fun outings can also make meaningful gifts, especially if they mean being thoughtful and spending time together. Too hard? In that case, you and your partner might just consider exchanging wishlists for your next gift-giving occasion.

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1Adams, G. S., Flynn, F. J., & Norton, M. I. (in press, 2012). The gifts we keep on giving: Documenting and destigmatizing the regifting taboo. Psychological Science. doi: 10.1177/0956797612439718

Dr. Helen Lee Lin - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Helen's past research has focused on potential problems in relationships, such as keeping secrets from a significant other. She is also interested in communication as well as the use and consumption of media in relationships, and is planning to work in applied contexts for her future projects. Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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