Research on benefits of gift giving

Whether or not it’s the dread of a visit to an overcrowded shopping center, the problem of choosing out the correct presents, the frustration over supply delays or the hit to the pockets, purchasing for vacation presents could be disturbing.

What’s the purpose of all of it? Shouldn’t the vacation season merely be about household, pals and meals? And wouldn’t everybody simply be higher off spending their very own cash on issues they know they need?

Gift exchanges could seem wasteful and impractical. However as social scientific analysis reveals, the prices and benefits of gift-giving aren’t what they appear.


The Kula ring

Throughout his fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski documented an elaborate custom practiced by the Massim folks. These island communities maintained a fancy ceremonial alternate system that revolved across the gifting of shell necklaces and shell armbands. Every gift first handed between people after which traveled between islands in a circle that grew to become often known as the “Kula ring.”

These artifacts had no sensible utility or business worth. The truth is, promoting them was strictly forbidden by customized. And because the objects had been at all times on the transfer, their homeowners not often wore them. Nonetheless, the Massim took lengthy journeys to alternate them, risking life and limb as they navigated the treacherous waters of the Pacific Ocean of their wobbly canoes.

This hardly looks like an environment friendly use of time and sources. However anthropologists realized that the Kula was instrumental in cultivating human connection.

Individually, these presents had been not really free; they got here with the expectation of compensation sooner or later. However on the entire, they served to create a cycle of mutual tasks, leading to a community of reciprocal relationships encompassing all the group.

The giving impact

Related exchanges exist in societies around the globe. In lots of components of Asia, gift-giving is an integral half of corporate culture. Identical to for the Massim, these symbolic presents facilitate enterprise relations.

In a lot of the Western world, one of probably the most acquainted contexts is the customized of exchanging vacation presents. On events akin to Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, many households spend appreciable time, effort and cash on shopping for presents for his or her family members.


Taking a look at it by the lens of chilly logic, the follow appears wasteful. Everybody has to pay for another person’s stuff. Some presents find yourself going unused or returned. If nobody gave presents, everybody is perhaps higher off spending their time and cash based on their very own wants and needs.

Nevertheless, psychological analysis suggests in any other case.

Research present that spending money on others feels higher than splurging on ourselves. The truth is, neuroscientists have discovered that making a donation makes the mind’s reward circuitry mild up greater than receiving a gift. Furthermore, the enjoyment of giving a gift lasts longer than the fleeting pleasure of accepting it.

By exchanging presents, we are able to double-dip, spreading emotions of gratitude throughout. Moreover, as households and pals know each other’s tastes, preferences and desires, chances are high that most individuals will find yourself receiving what they needed within the first place, with the added bonus of bringing everybody nearer collectively.

Weaving webs of connections

Ritualized sharing happens not solely inside but additionally between households. Suppose of birthday events, weddings or child showers. Visitors are anticipated to convey a gift, usually of important worth. Each they and their hosts usually hold monitor of the worth of these presents, and receivers are anticipated to reciprocate with a gift of related worth when the chance presents itself sooner or later.

This alternate serves a number of features. For the hosts, it offers materials help, usually throughout difficult transitional intervals akin to beginning a brand new household. And for company, it’s like investing cash right into a fund, for use when their time involves grow to be hosts. Furthermore, the presents assist increase the symbolic standing of the givers together with that of the receiver, who’s in place to prepare a lavish ceremony partly or wholly funded by the company. Most significantly, these exchanges assist construct a community of ritual bonds between households.

Related practices even prolong to politics: When diplomats or leaders go to a overseas nation, it’s customary to alternate presents. French officers usually hand out bottles of wine, whereas Italian leaders are recognized to provide fashionable ties.

Different diplomatic presents could also be extra uncommon. When President Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, Chairman Mao Zedong sent two giant pandas, named Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, to the Nationwide Zoo in Washington, D.C. The U.S. authorities reciprocated by sending two oxen to China.

From the shells exchanged by Pacific islanders to the toys and sweaters positioned below Christmas bushes, sharing has at all times been on the heart of many ritual traditions. That is basically totally different from different varieties of materials alternate, like commerce or barter.

For the Massim, exchanging a shell necklace for a shell armband just isn’t the identical as buying and selling yam for fish, simply as giving a birthday current just isn’t the identical as handing a cashier cash to buy groceries.

This speaks to a extra common rule of ceremonial actions: They don’t seem to be what they seem like. In contrast to atypical behaviors, ritual actions are nonutilitarian. It’s this very lack of apparent utility that makes them particular.


Dimitris Xygalatas is an affiliate professor of Anthropology and Psychological Sciences on the University of Connecticut.

This text is republished from The Conversation below a Artistic Commons license. Learn the original article.