THE SCIENCE OF GIFT GIVING

Gifts generally are a reflection of the relationship between the giver and the recipient.  To state the obvious, people generally spend more time, effort, and money the closer in kinship is closer, or the more closely you are genetically related to someone, with the exception of romantic partners, who take the cake when it comes to gifts.  This fits with kin selection theory, which states that folks who are genetically related or are likely to create genetic relatedness through each other (i.e. mating), are more prone to reciprocal altruistic behaviors, as it increases the likelihood of passing your genes to future generations.

Did you know that firstborn offspring spend more on gifts for relatives than their younger counterparts?  The theory is that they identify more strongly with their parents and authority figures, which has an effect on their personalities and stronger desire to please and align with them.

Women also tend to spend more on gift giving than men, particularly in their social circles outside of family.  This could have arisen from historical social systems being more patrilocal than they are currently, requiring women to put more effort in distant-related folks to maintain ties and the associated benefits.

If you really break it down though, giving a gift is actually a selfish act from a genetic standpoint.  In fact, any seemingly altruistic behavior just isn’t so, as there is always a benefit of some sort for the giver.  It feels good to make someone else feel good, right?  So, you are benefiting in some form for anything nice you do.  People often ask, “well, what about giving blood or your kidney?”  The same holds true here, even if it is because you don’t want to NOT do something out of fear of some moral obligation that you feel to “do the right thing” in your mind.  How many people give blood and don’t tell anyone about it?  Not many.  We want others to know that we are a good person.  It instills trust and makes us more likeable, which also makes us more likely to benefit from a relationship with other people in the future.  Even if you do something good anonymously, it still feels good to feel good about yourself.  Why did you do it anonymously?  Your reasons may not be fully conscious ones, but you were still motivated by some intrinsic reward or to avoid some negative feeling.  Let’s face it, we’re selfish.

Does it matter that giving is technically a genetically selfish act?  Well, no, not really, because it doesn’t undermine the benefit from the intended recipient either.  Show me someone who “selflessly” gave up their kidney, and I’ll show you a very grateful recipient.  The point here is to acknowledge the fact that there are other forces at play here, not to mention social norms and expectations that arise from them.  How many times have you felt compulsion to buy someone a gift, even though you didn’t really want to just because it seems like the appropriate thing to do?  There are costs to not adhering to social and cultural norms.  Think about your personal debate in these situations.  There is a fear that you are going to be perceived in some negative light.  Not only that, but a fear that this perception will be shared with others and your reputation could be at stake.  People gossip and pass information for strong evolutionary in-group and out-group reasons.  Can you be trusted?  Will you help me out if I need it?  Are you reliable and willing to accept some cost in our relationship?  Did you know that seemingly altruistic behavior has been observed in goldfish in procuring food and protection from predators?  Goldfish who don’t engage in this altruistic behavior pay a penalty and lose out on in-group benefits as a result.

That being said, if you’re having a personal debate about whether or not to get a gift for someone (or for yourself for that matter), try browsing our Under $25 category and I’m sure you’ll find something or generate an idea that makes it easy to just end the debate and err on the side of securing social benefits for you and your offspring for generations to come.

If you still can’t decide, trust us, just go with THIS SWEATER to convey a clear message to the recipient about your doubts about getting them a gift.

Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *