Choosing the Right Gift


I recently came across a statistic in a book, titled “Cheap Psychological Tricks”, that stated approximately forty percent of the gifts you give will be disliked by the person to whom the gift was intended.  The psychological reasoning behind this dismal statistic is that we tend to choose the gift based upon the recipients’ perceived personality.   This is called “attribution theory” and is based upon our human nature of;

  1.  Wanting to judge other people’s actions and assume that their behavior is a result of their unique characteristic of their personality.  We look for enduring internal attributions such as, “they are lazy, naïve, conservative, etc…
  1. When we judge our own behaviors we rarely blame our own personality, but easily reflect the blame to the situation, our surrounding environment, or some physical limitation.


An example of this would you notice a co-worker leaves work earlier than you do, so you automatically consider the person to be irresponsible or unreliable.  However, if you leave early you account for the early departure by noting that you had a serious teacher meeting to attend with your son or daughter.  So our judgmental nature assumed another’s reasons as those of their perceived personality and our own actions based upon the unique situation.

So what does this have to do with choosing a gift?  Most of the time we choose a gift based upon a person’s perceived personality.  We “judge” what they might like based upon our faulty rationalization of their personality.  You might have a friend that is very outgoing, extroverted, and the life of the party.  So based on those attributes you might be tempted to purchase that that bright orange tie as a gift.   A much safer approach in the selection of an appropriate gift would be to “peel back the onion” further and genuinely find what your friend likes to do.  Through this analysis you might have found your friend loves to spend their time in the art of black powder shooting.  So instead of purchasing that orange tie you wisely choose to get a pound of black powder instead.  


So, when you are out shopping for that perfect gift, make sure you focus on the recipients actions more than their personality.  Choosing the gift based upon someone’s activities will yield a much higher success rate of a gift that will be cherished.


 If you are interested in learning more about “Attribution Theory” here are a couple of resources to get you started;

  • Buffington, P.  Cheap Psychological Tricks, New York: MJF Books 1996: 90-92
  • Storms, <.D. “Videotape and the Attribution Process.  Reversing Actors’ and Observers’ Points of View.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27 (1973): 165-175



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