Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Gift of Regifting

Be honest: How bad is it to regift? We've all gotten gifts that are clearly items someone was given and didn't want. A Chia Pet, a fruitcake, or an ugly piece of jewelry. Some things you can just tell. No lie, I once got a set of used cassette tapes. I don't even own a cassette tape player. I considered rethinking a friendship.

Most often, people regift things they will not use or gifts they do not like. If you want to stick a name on it, it is a problem researchers refer to as "deadweight loss." This is because the gift recipients would never spend as much money as the giver (especially on an ugly, unusable item like that), and the receiver is left with an item that lingers around in the closet (or wherever) until they can get rid of it (hence, the "deadweight" terminology). How do you shed the deadweight? You pass it on. Maybe the receiver will appreciate it in ways you never did, or at least they will pretend to. And this gets to the heart of today's post: How do people regard regifting? Resourceful and thrifty or rude and distasteful? Does it matter if you are the giver or the receiver? A study published this year in Psychological Science asked just these questions in a series of studies.

Study 1: Is it okay to regift gift cards?
Participants were asked to imagine that a 50 dollar Amazon gift card had been given as a birthday gift and then regifted to someone else. Then they were asked to assess their feelings as either the giver or the regifter. The researchers found that regifters thought the giver would be more offended if they regifted the card than givers reported that feeling.

Study 2: Do you regift or throw away an undesirable present?
The first study showed that regifters may be overestimating how offended the givers would be at having their present regifted. But what if that present were just thrown away? Participants were asked to imagine that they had recently given or received a wristwatch as a gift and, depending on the rolls they were assigned (giver or receiver), how would they feel if the watch was either regifted or thrown away? Similar to Study 1, the researchers found that the receivers thought that regifting or throwing a gift away would offend givers more than givers felt they would have been offended. They also found that the recipients found throwing away a gift to be more offensive than regifting it. Givers were less offended if their present was regifted than if it was thrown away.

Study 3: In the real world, how do friends really feel about regifting?
In this study, the researchers wanted to get a more real world feel. How do real groups of friends feel about regifting? So they asked participants to sign up with two of their friends. One member of this group was assigned the roll of the giver, separated from the group, and asked to choose from three items that were pretested and identified as bad gifts (a magazine for retired people, a DVD about the life of Mandy Moore, and a weight-loss cookbook). The giver then wrapped their gift and gave it to one of their friends. Once the giver had gone back to the waiting room, the receiver (now the regifter) of the bad gift was then asked to rewrap the bad gift. Then, in front of the initial giver, the regifter enters the waiting room with the rewrapped gift and gives it to the final friend. I don't know about you, but this almost sounds mean just reading it. When each was asked about their feelings on this bout of regifting, the regivers again thought the initial giver would be more offended than they were. Givers thought that the regifters were entitled to do what they wished with the gift.

Study 4: Is it possible to make receivers more comfortable with regifting?
Did you know that there is a National Regifting Day? It's true. In honor of holiday office parties and the “unique” gifts exchanged at them, the creators of have declared the third Thursday in December as National Regifting Day. The results of Study 3 suggested that interventions that encourage receivers to do what they wish with their gifts may liberate them to regift. The researchers found that study participants were more likely to regift if they were told that it was National Regifting Day than if they were not told. They also found that receivers felt more entitled to do what they wanted with their bad gift if they were told it was National Regifting Day, although they still felt less entitled than givers thought they should.

When I stop and think about it, this all makes sense. However, I maintain that giving a bad gift (like used cassette tapes) is still giving a bad gift and that isn't being a good friend or relative. Go back and read the last gift giving post, your friends often don't need something flashy or weird (unless they are that kind of personality). Think about what they want and get it for them. Odds are that they will keep your gift and use it. At least I hope so. And if not, this article suggests that they don't mind if you regift it. I would have been interested to see another choice in Study 2 that included feelings on donating the gift.

What about you? What are your thoughts on regifting? Will you be giving away that ugly office gift from last year?

ResearchBlogging.orgAdams, G., Flynn, F., & Norton, M. (2012). The Gifts We Keep on Giving: Documenting and Destigmatizing the Regifting Taboo Psychological Science, 23 (10), 1145-1150 DOI: 10.1177/0956797612439718

Some more regifting reading:
The New York Times: "Re-Gifting: You Shouldn’t Have. But if You Did, Here’s How to Get Away With It"
The Huffington Post: "To Regift or Not to Regift, That Is the Question" and "Regifting Christmas Presents: How To Do It Properly"
ABC News: "Re-Gifting: It’s Not Just for the Poor, Frugal or Unashamed Anymore"

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