Science Says Badly Wrapped Gifts Are Better Than Perfect Ones

The holidays are supposed to be a time of cheer and love — and they definitely are, but there is an undeniable amount of stress that can threaten to ruin the fun of gift-giving. With how-to articles popping up all over the internet on fancy ways to wrap a gift from shiny printed paper with sparkling bows to rustic brown paper with twine and pine cones, there are too many stylish ways to wrap a gift. Well, it turns out that if you wrap a gift in a sloppy way, your gift receiver will still love it just the same. Science says so.

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In a fascinating study just released by the University of Nevada, researchers looked at how neatly wrapped gifts affect the recipients’  expectations of what’s inside.

“We propose that when recipients open a gift from a friend, they like it less when the giver has wrapped it neatly as opposed to sloppily and we draw on expectation disconfirmation theory to explain the effect. Specifically, recipients set higher (lower) expectations for neatly (sloppily)‐wrapped gifts, making it harder (easier) for the gifts to meet these expectations, resulting in contrast effects that lead to less (more) positive attitudes toward the gifts once unwrapped.”

But what if the person you’re giving a gift to isn’t someone you know well? Researchers wondered that too and what they found was that how a gift is wrapped can serve as a social cue about how well the two people like each other. Researchers found that what happens, in this case, is that the acquaintance tends to like gifts more when they are neatly wrapped.

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AJessica Rixom, Ph. D. who co-authored the study, told TODAY Home that “Based on participants’ answers to various questions, it suggested that the reason why this happens is because the neat wrapping sets higher expectations for the gift inside, which makes it harder for the gifts to live up to those expectations. When the gifts are unwrapped, the recipient is a bit disappointed whereas when it’s wrapped sloppily, expectations are lower so the gift is more of a pleasant surprise.”

This brings to mind all of the wrapped gifts that I have received from my children over the years. Not one of them was neatly wrapped and I most certainly loved those gifts more than anything else. Because when it comes down to it, it really is the thought that counts.