Who knew that stressing out about gifts could actually be a good thing? Of course, we all know the famous saying, “It’s the thought that counts.” In general, a gift is more meaningful when the giver has put a lot of thought into it. But according to a recent marketing study, we might have underestimated just how helpful this stress and overthinking could be.
The April 2018 research, published in Psychology & Marketing, found that people who are “secure” in interpersonal settings were more likely make gift choices for others based on their own personal preferences. The study, based on the surveys of 1,272 people across five studies, also found that people who are “anxious” in these interpersonal settings were less likely to assume that other people shared their personal preferences and also less likely to make choices for others based on the things they enjoy.
“You’d think that secure people with lots of friends and healthy personal relationships would have a better idea of what someone would like as a gift, but that’s not the case,” lead author Meredith David, PhD, said in a press release. “This research shows that individuals who are anxious in interpersonal situations and who have fewer close, personal relationships are better at predicting what a person may like.”
As Dr. David explained, these more secure folks — who expect others will be available and supportive when needed — are engaging in something called “social projection,” which means assuming someone close to you shares your same attitudes or preferences. In other words, buying someone a gift that you would rather buy yourself might not be the great idea that you thought it was (at least in in some cases).
But before you start stressing about gifts you gave in the past and how they stacked up compared to others, it’s worth noting that this study does have some limitations. The amount of people studied was relatively small, and the research was survey-based. Thus, it doesn’t prove that only people who have anxiety can give a good gift. That said, it does serve as an important reminder to put thought in all your gifts — and make sure that thought is about the other person, not you.
“Gifts should be thoughtful, and securely attached folks need to take caution when selecting and buying gifts,” David said. “Importantly, these individuals should strive to put their own preferences aside when considering what others may like.”