Why must we compensate after buying gifts that threaten our identities?

Dec 22, 2010

If a vegetarian has to buy a steakhouse gift certificate for a friend, her discomfort will lead her to buy something else that reaffirms her identity, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"When gift givers choose a gift that matches the identity of the recipient but is contrary to their own identity, they experience discomfort," write authors Morgan K. Ward (Southern Methodist University) and Susan M. Broniarczyk (University of Texas). This discomfort leads to choose other products that express their identities.

The authors investigated the consequences for gift-givers when the gifts threaten one of two central identities: school affiliation or political identity. In their studies, the researchers told participants to imagine they were choosing a gift for a recipient who had created a gift registry. In one experiment, gift givers from the University of Texas at Austin (the "Longhorns") chose gifts for a close friend that attended either their own school or the rival school (Texas A&M, home of the "Aggies").

The gifts on the registry were emblazoned with the schools' emblems. "While making a gift choice, the givers of the rival Texas A&M gift were more likely to exhibit physical signs of discomfort such as chewing on their lips, averting their eyes, fidgeting, and crossing their arms," the authors write. At the checkout, Longhorns fans distanced themselves physically from their Aggies purchases.

After they purchased the gifts, Longhorn-identified participants were then offered either an expensive silver pen or a cheap plastic pen with the Longhorn logo on it. Longhorn fans who gave the University of Texas gift were confident in their identities and much more likely to choose the more attractive silver pen for themselves. In contrast, Longhorn fans who purchased the rival Texas A&M were more likely to choose the cheap plastic Longhorn pen in order to reestablish their identities.

The authors also found that Democrats asked to choose gifts at odds with their political identities were more likely to choose a subscription to the New York Times, whereas Republicans who chose items emblazoned with donkeys chose the more conservative Wall Street Journal.

Explore further: Precarious work schedules common among younger workers

More information: Morgan K. Ward and Susan M. Broniarczyk. "It's Not Me, It's You: How Gift Giving Creates Giver Identity Threat as a Function of Social Closeness." Journal of Consumer Research: June 2011. Further information: ejcr.org

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The Thought Is What Counts

Dec 22, 2009

Holiday gift givers who expect to be appreciated for choosing the most expensive gifts are likely to be disappointed when their presents are unwrapped. Cost has little impact on how much we value the gifts we receive, according ...

Good date gift: expensive but worthless

Jul 27, 2005

British researchers say if men believe they are frittering away their money wining and dining a girl to win her hand, they should think again.

Imagine your future self: Will it help you save money?

Dec 22, 2010

Why do people choose present consumption over their long-term financial interests? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research finds that consumers have trouble feeling connected to their future selves.

Recommended for you

Precarious work schedules common among younger workers

15 hours ago

One wish many workers may have this Labor Day is for more control and predictability of their work schedules. A new report finds that unpredictability is widespread in many workers' schedules—one reason ...

Girls got game

16 hours ago

Debi Taylor has worked in everything from construction development to IT, and is well and truly socialised into male-dominated workplaces. So when she found herself the only female in her game development ...

Computer games give a boost to English

Aug 28, 2014

If you want to make a mark in the world of computer games you had better have a good English vocabulary. It has now also been scientifically proven that someone who is good at computer games has a larger ...

Saddam Hussein—a sincere dictator?

Aug 28, 2014

Are political speeches manipulative and strategic? They could be – when politicians say one thing in public, and privately believe something else, political scientists say. Saddam Hussein's legacy of recording private discussions ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Corban
not rated yet Dec 22, 2010
The discomfort comes from the evangelical urge: as a group member you're expected to extol its virtues (otherwise you wouldn't have joined!) and proselytize. Would this effect exist for groups which lack an evangelism mandate?