Here’s What Makes A Good Gift, According To Research


If you’re trying to apologize to someone, expensive gifts work:

The present study examined a costly signaling model of human apology. The model assumes that an unintentional transgressor is more motivated to restore the relationship with the victim than an intentional transgressor who depreciates the relationship. The model predicts the existence of a separating equilibrium, in which only sincere apologizers will pay a certain cost to restore the relationship, while dishonest apologizers will not. Accordingly, we hypothesized that the receivers of an apology would be sensitive to the cost involved in the apology. were vignette experiments, in which participants imagined that they were victims of an interpersonal transgression and received either a costly or no-cost apology. The costliness of the apology was manipulated by the presence of an apology gift in Experiment 1, and by inconvenience voluntarily experienced by the transgressor to make an apology in Experiment 2. In both experiments, participants found the costly apologizer to be more sincere than the no-cost apologizer. Experiment 3 employed a modified dictator game, in which a fictitious partner behaved in an unfair manner and apologized to the participants. The apology cost was manipulated as a fee for sending the apology message. The results of were replicated. In addition, when given a chance to send a complaint message to the unfair person, participants in the costly apology condition abstained from doing so. Implications of the study are discussed in relation to applications of the costly signaling theory to interpersonal behavior.

Source: “Do sincere apologies need to be costly? Test of a costly signaling model of apology” from Evolution and Human Behavior, Volume 30, Issue 2, Pages 114-123 (March 2009)

If you’re giving a gift to a guy, it better be a good gift. Girls are less picky:

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.

Source: “The Gift of Similarity: How Good and Bad Gifts Influence Relationships” from Social Cognition, Vol. 26, Issue 4, 8/2008

And guys, if you’re giving a gift to a woman you’re interested in, the best kind seem to be expensive, worthless gifts:

What are the characteristics of a good courtship gift? We address this question by modelling courtship as a sequential game. This is structured as follows: the male offers a gift to a female; after observing the gift, the female decides whether or not to accept it; she then chooses whether or not to mate with the male. In one version of the game, based on human courtship, the female is uncertain about whether the male intends to stay or desert after mating. In a second version, there is no paternal care but the female is uncertain about the male’s quality. The two versions of the game are shown to be mathematically equivalent. We find robust equilibrium solutions in which mating is predominantly facilitated by an ‘extravagant’ gift which is costly to the male but intrinsically worthless to the female. By being costly to the male, the gift acts as a credible signal of his intentions or quality. At the same time, its lack of intrinsic value to the female serves to deter a ‘gold-digger’, who has no intention of mating with the male, from accepting the gift. In this way, an economically inefficient gift enables mutually suitable partners to be matched.

Source: “Costly but worthless gifts facilitate courtship” from Proc. R. Soc. B 22 September 2005 vol. 272 no. 1575 1877-1884

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