Yikes! Another birthday or wedding is coming up fast, and once again you're wracking your brain to come up with a gift that matches the recipient's tastes.
But guess what: a surprising new study suggests that that may be the wrong way to pick a gift -- and that giving a gift that reflects the your own interests may make the recipient feel emotionally closer to you.
"We were somewhat surprised by our findings," Dr. Lauren Human, assistant professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal and a co-author of the study, told The Huffington Post in an email. "The intuition that when we select a gift for someone, we should be thinking about what they like (rather than what we like), is very strong and we shared that initially. However, we had a hunch that things might not be that straightforward, as people often mispredict what will be the most beneficial for themselves and others."
For the study, Human and her colleague Dr. Lara Aknin, assistant professor of social psychology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., conducted six experiments involving about 1,500 men and women.
In one experiment, participants were told to pick a Mother's Day card. Some were asked to pick a card that "reveals your true self," others to pick one that "reveals your knowledge of the recipient." Then all the participants completed questionnaires aimed at revealing their emotions.
What did the researchers find? Participants who gave a card that reflected their own interests indicated that they felt closer to their moms immediately after selecting the card than did the participants who gave a card that reflected their mother's interests.
In another experiment, participants were asked to purchase an iTunes song as a gift for a friend, family member, or romantic partner that either reflected their true self or their knowledge of the recipient. It turned out that the recipients who received the song that reflected the giver's interests felt higher levels of closeness to the giver immediately after receiving the gift than those who received the song that reflected their own interests.
So what exactly is the take-away?
"People seem to underestimate the benefits of giving a gift that reflects their own likes and interests," Human said in the email. "Giving a gift that reflects your own interests may promote closeness because it may serve as an act of self-disclosure, an instance of sharing oneself with another person. This type of act can be very beneficial for relationships, making you feel closer to that person and making that person feel closer to you."
The study is to be published in the September 2015 edition of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.