Q&A on Regifting With Gabrielle Adams

Gabrielle Adams is an assistant professor of organizational behavior at London Business School. Her research interests include morality and ethical behavior, as well as human behavior.

In reference to “The Gifts We Keep On Giving,” the research article in Psychological Science:

What sparked your interest to study psychology and human behavior?

As an undergraduate, I first decided to major in Philosophy because I wanted to ask questions about fundamental problems. When I took Thane Pittman’s social psychology course at Colby College, I realized that I could also come up with some answers to these questions by conducting empirical tests of the ideas I had about human behavior. I was delighted to learn that I could make a career out of thinking about how people behave!

In my research, I focus on prosocial behavior (behavior that benefits or helps others) as well as unethical behavior (that harms or hurts others). Gift giving, to me, is an example of a prosocial tradition that is ubiquitous and culturally universal, and reinforces social ties between people.

Does the particular occasion make a difference in the giver or receiver’s attitude (i.e., a birthday gift vs. a hostess gift)?

We find that givers are less offended by regifting than regifters think they would be. One thing I like about these studies is that we find support for this hypothesis across several occasions, including birthdays and graduations. I think receivers are generally grateful for gifts and feel obligated to honor the givers’ wishes by not giving the gift to someone else, regardless of why they received it. Ultimately, regifters’ beliefs about how offended the giver will feel don’t seem to vary across occasion.

Do the receivers’ opinions of the gift have an influence on whether or not they regift it to someone else?

We looked at both classically “bad” gifts (e.g., a magazine for retired people, a DVD about the life of Mandy Moore, and a weight-loss cookbook) and gifts that people would actually like to receive (a wristwatch, a gift card, an iPod shuffle). Although I suspect that people are more likely to regift gifts that they have received and do not like, our studies show that across both good and bad gifts, regifters think givers will be more offended by regifting than givers actually report feeling.

Are people more accepting of a gift if they don’t know that it has been regifted? Or does it not make a difference to the receiver? Do the receivers’ opinions of the gift vary based on whether they thought the gift they received had been regifted?

Because we focus on givers’ and regifters’ beliefs about the offensiveness of regifting, we don’t test the “ultimate” receivers’ perspective in these studies; we only look at the perspective of the giver versus the regifter. If I were to guess, I would say that regifters should not try to hide the fact that they are regifting, and instead should emphasize that the reason they are regifting is because they think it is better suited to the receiver than it was to them.

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