valentine's day giftsPsychology 

Psychology of Valentine’s Day Gifts


We don’t have to buy our loved ones cars on Valentine’s Day to show them how we feel, although car dealerships would love for us to believe otherwise! Since the 19th century, when it was considered bad luck for senders to sign their name on the valentine cards, the occasion is now marked with mass-produced greeting cards and seasonal advertising campaigns for increasingly expensive gifts.

However, recent consumer research on gift giving from the University of Cincinnati suggests that if you want to buy someone a Valentine’s Day gift this year, choose something that the recipient will appreciate and enjoy. Don’t try to show off how thoughtful or extravagant you are.

“When it comes to choosing Valentine’s Day gifts for close others, like romantic partners, givers try especially hard to be thoughtful and demonstrate their knowledge of their partner,” says Mary Steffel, assistant professor of marketing in UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business. Looking closely at the giving of store-issued gift cards, the research shows attempts to be thoughtful can backfire. Steffel says: “We find that givers tend to choose more specific, less versatile gift cards when shopping for romantic partners than friends, but that recipients prefer more versatile gift cards regardless of how close they are to the giver.”

The research team used data from experiments in which participants were asked to put themselves in the role of a giver or recipient and then choose between gift cards that varied in terms of specificity or versatility. The team also analyzed real-world data from several gift card services.

“Recipients took longer to redeem gift cards the more specific they were,” Steffel says. “Givers didn’t anticipate this. They thought it would take recipients equally long to redeem regardless of how specific they were.”

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Valentine’s Day Citizen Science

Get involved with these citizen science projects. Citizen Science is for Lovers this Valentine’s Day!

More about Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day (February 14) was first associated with romantic love in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers “as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart.”

Support for this research was provided by the Georgetown Institute for Consumer Research Consumer Insights Challenge in partnership with NPD Group.The findings will be presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual conference. Related research has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research.


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