John Tierney in The New York Times:
Social scientists bear glad tidings for the holiday season. After extensively observing how people respond to gifts, they have advice for shoppers: You don’t have to try so hard. You’re not obliged to spend hours finding just the right gift for each person on your list. Most would be just as happy with something quick and easy. This may sound too good to be true, but rest assured this is not a ploy by some lazy Scrooges in academia. These researchers are meticulous analysts of gift-giving rituals. Whether they’re drawing lessons from Kwakwaka’wakw Indian potlatches or Amazon.com wish lists, I’ve always found them the wisest mentors for the holidays, and this year they have more data than ever to back up their advice:
Don’t aim for the “big reveal.” Many shoppers strive to find a sensational toy or extravagant piece of jewelry that will create drama when it’s opened. But drama is not what recipients want, according to a new study by Jeff Galak of Carnegie Mellon University. He and his colleagues have found that gifts go wrong because the givers are focused on the moment of exchange, whereas the recipients are thinking long-term: Will I actually get any use out of this? Don’t “over-individuate” your gifts. People too often give bad presents because they insist on buying something different for everyone. In experiments using greeting cards and gifts, psychologists found that people typically feel obliged to choose unique items for each person on their list even when the recipients wouldn’t know if they got duplicates — and even when one particularly good gift would work better for everyone. The more gifts you select, the more likely you’ll pick some duds. If you can find one sure thing, don’t be afraid to give it more than once.