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NEWS RELEASE: Tepper School Research Analyzes Sentimental Value and Its Influence on Holiday Gift-Giving

Research Finds that Sentimentally Valuable Gifts Cause Pause for Consumers

Noelle Wiker
(412) 992-1486

New research from the Tepper School of Business suggests that the fear of giving the wrong gift is holding gift givers back this holiday season.  

The research by Jeff Galak, associate professor of marketing along with co-author Julian Givi, Tepper School Ph.D. student, suggests that when faced with the choice to give a sentimental gift or one that is less personal, givers tend default to a superficial option to avoid uncertainty about how the gift will be received. Ironically, recipients’ preferences skew toward receiving more personal gift options, those high in sentimental value. 

“We conducted several studies to understand what factors contribute to givers’ fears of missing the mark. What we found was that ultimately, givers are not listening to receivers. Although receivers desire personal gifts, givers are hesitant because of uncertainty about how an emotionally-associated item will be received,” said Galak. “This is a real problem for consumers this holiday season. When givers give into their own anxiety, they deprive others of enjoying the intent of true gift-giving.”

The researchers found that there are several factors that positively impact the gift exchange process, such as the occasion when the gift is exchanged and giver-receiver relationship types:

  • More sentimental occasions, such as a going away party, increase the likelihood of receiving a more emotionally-tied item;
  • There is a positive correlation between the likelihood of gifting emotionally-associated items and the strength of the relationship between gift givers and receivers;
  • Gift givers who have had success taking a risk, point to a higher likelihood of choosing a sentimental item. 

The paper titled, ‘Sentimental Value and Gift Giving: Givers’ Fears of Getting It Wrong Prevents Them from Getting It Right,' by Julian Givi and Jeff Galak, (DOI) appears in Journal of Consumer Psychology, Volume 27, Issue 4 (2017), published by Elsevier.

The paper found that regardless of various instances where sentimentally-affiliated gifts were more likely to be shared with recipients, low-risk and preference-matching items (without emotional ties) were preferred by givers – even when the receiver favored the more personal gift item. 

“We’ve found that despite factors that may prompt consumers to give more personal gifts, they continue to default to the superficial item,” said Givi. “For example, a recipient may prefer a framed photograph of himself and his friends attending a memorable sporting event that featured his favorite team, but the giver is likely to lean toward gifting a shirt with the team name and logo.”

“Regardless of how much a receiver would prefer the emotionally-charged gift, we found that utility and practicality rule the day for gift givers,” Galak noted. “The benefits or usefulness of a superficial gift outweigh the risks of giving a present that may not be well-received, but also unfortunately, takes away from the happiness of person receiving it.”

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About the Tepper School of Business 
Founded in 1949, the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University ( is a pioneer in the field of management science and analytical-decision making. The school is among those institutions with the highest rate of academic citations in the fields of finance, operations research, organizational behavior and operations management. The academic offerings of the Tepper School include undergraduate studies in business and economics, Master’s degrees in business administration, product management and business analytics as well as doctoral studies in accounting, business technology, economics, finance, marketing, operations management, operations research and organizational behavior.

About Journal of Consumer Psychology
The Journal of Consumer Psychology (JCP) publishes top-quality research articles that contribute both theoretically and empirically to our understanding of the psychology of consumer behavior. JCP is the official journal of the Society for Consumer Psychology, Division 23 of the American Psychological Association. JCP publishes articles in areas such as consumer judgment and decision processes, consumer needs, attitude formation and change, reactions to persuasive communications, consumption experiences, consumer information processing, consumer-brand relationships, affective, cognitive, and motivational determinants of consumer behavior, family and group decision processes, and cultural and individual differences in consumer behavior. Most published articles are likely to report new empirical findings, obtained either in the laboratory or in field experiments that contribute to existing theory in both consumer research and psychology. However, results of survey research, correlational studies, and other methodological paradigms are also welcomed to the extent that the findings extend our psychological understanding of consumer behavior. Theoretical and/or review articles integrating existing bodies of research and providing new insights into the underpinnings of consumer behavior and consumer decision processes are also encouraged.