The Psychology of Gift Giving

November 27, 2018

The Psychology of Gift Giving

You'll find a guest blog below from Activity Superstore, all about the psychology behind gift giving.


With the festive season just around the corner, you might feel the need to jot down a list of all the people you plan to buy gifts for. But what do you give them and what will your gifts say about your relationship with them? In fact, the presents we give say a lot about us, our feelings towards the receiver and other complex social and psychological structures.

Why do we give gifts?

Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries stand out as the occasions when we feel most compelled to give presents. However, there are lots of other underlying reasons for why we might choose to do so.

To build relationships

Gifting can establish or reinforce relationships between the giver and the receiver. French sociologist Marcel Mauss argued that the act of not gifting communicates a dismissal or lack of respect for a relationship.

A way of showing love and commitment

In this sense, gifts are used as a symbol to communicate the feelings someone has towards another person. For example, men often give flowers to their partners as they symbolise feelings of love with their fragrant beauty.

Symbolic communication

It’s the thought that counts! Whether opening a gift fills you with happiness or you feel slightly disappointed because it wasn’t quite what you would’ve wanted, receiving a present makes you feel something. This is because we attach symbolic meaning to the gifts we receive.

To receive something in return

In the modern day notion of gift giving, there’s often an expectation that this offering will be repaid by receiving something in return. However, it’s important to get this bit right, as repaying with too much or too little can cause embarrassment or hurt feelings.

To help others

Conversely, we sometimes also give presents with the knowledge that this gesture won’t be reciprocated, such as to our children or pets. We also give gifts in the form of charity donations, which we don’t get anything in return for apart from the great feeling we get.

To find a mate 

Both humans and our closest primate relatives are known to give gifts as part of the mating ritual. A study found that males who gift more generously have a higher success rate of attracting mates while females are more likely to buy gifts for family and friends.

Choosing the perfect gift can be a challenge. Use the gift matrix below to help you make the final decision.


Modern Gift Matrix

To read more about the psychology and history behind gift giving, take a look at Activity Superstore’s in-depth article.

If you're stuck for truly unique and meaningful Christmas Gift ideas, take a look at Betsy Benn's Christmas Shop.


Betsy Benn Christmas Gifts


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