How Good and Bad Gifts Influence Relationships
Abstract (via Dunn, Huntsinger, Lun/Sinclair)
We tested the hypothesis that gifts act as markers of interpersonal similarity for both acquaintances and close relationship partners. Participants were led to believe that a new opposite sex acquaintance (Experiment 1) or romantic partner (Experiment 2) had selected either a desirable or undesirable gift for them. In Experiment 1, men viewed themselves as less similar to their new acquaintance after receiving a bad versus good gift from her, whereas women’s perceived similarity ratings were unaffected by gift quality. In Experiment 2, men reported decreased similarity to their romantic partner after receiving a bad gift, whereas women responded to the bad gift more positively; perceived similarity, in turn, had an impact on participants’ evaluations of the relationship’s future potential. This research highlights the need for more experimental work on gift-giving, which has been largely overlooked by mainstream social psychologists despite its economic and interpersonal significance.
Introduction (Via Dunn, Huntsinger, Lun/Sinclair)
Gift-giving is central to many social occasions, including Christmas, birthdays, and graduations. Americans spend almost $300 billion on gifts for friends and family annually, accounting for approximately 10% of the consumer retail economy in the U.S. (Unity Marketing, 2006). The amount of money spent by gift-givers far exceeds the monetary value placed on these gifts by their recipients, such that Christmas gift-giving alone produces an annual deadweight loss of up to $13 billion (Waldfogel, 1993).
Key Idea (via Dunn, Huntsinger, Lun/Sinclair)
This core idea—that gifts influence relationship development through their status as markers of similarity between partners—is a basic tenet of modern gift exchange theories (e.g., Belk & Coon, 1993; Sherry, 1983; Schwartz, 1967). The emphasis placed on the role of perceived similarity within the literature on gift-giving is matched by the special status accorded to similarity in the psychological literature more broadly. Since its early inception, attraction research focused on the role of perceived similarity, and a voluminous body of research has documented the critical importance of similarity in the formation of initial acquaintanceships (e.g., Byrne, 1971, 1997; Duck & Spencer, 1972; Neimeyer & Mitchell, 1988; Sunnafrank, 1983). Interestingly, as relationships develop and become more committed, the importance of similarity grows (Amodio & Showers, 2005; Murray, Holmes, Bellavia, Griffin, & Dolderman, 2002; Newcomb, 1961). Within close relationships, partners tend to overestimate their similarity to one another (Acitelli, Douvan, & Veroff, 1993; Byrne & Blaylock, 1963; Morry, 2007), and perceived similarity— more than actual similarity—reliably predicts relationship satisfaction (Acitelli et al., 1993; Murray et al., 2002). Indeed, Murray et al. (2002) argue that strong relationships are built on inflated perceptions of similarity between partners; such inflated perceptions of similarity seem to provide the basis for feeling understood by one’s partner, with felt understanding partially mediating the effect of perceived similarity on relationship satisfaction. Thus, perceived similarity represents a core variable that shapes relational development from the first stages of acquaintanceship through the twists and turns of highly committed relationships.