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Posted on Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Less is more? University of Michigan researchers say old adage rings true at Christmastime

By Kellie Woodhouse

presents under tree.jpg
Let's say your husband gives you an iPod for Christmas.

Cool, right?

Okay, now let's say your husband gives you an iPod and a $15 iTunes gift card.

I bet you're excited.

But which scenario will you appreciate more?

According to a recent University of Michigan study, the iPod, without the gift card, is likely to be received with the most gratitude.

That's because when people receive gifts, they average the total value of gifts received, instead of adding the sum of all gifts, according to the researchers.

Less, it turns out, really is more.

"(Gift-givers) are using an adding strategy, like more can't hurt," Stephen Garcia, U-M associate professor of psychology and organizational studies, said in an interview. "But evaluators are actually processing things with averaging mindsets."

Thus, the gift card significantly brings down the averaged value.

"You might actually think you’re creating a more generous package but, ironically, you’re probably diluting the overall value," Garcia said.

Garcia conducted the study with fellow U-M professor Norbert Schwarz, who teaches marketing and psychology, and Virginia Tech researcher Kimberlee Weaver.

The three call the disparity between the gift giver and gift recipient a "presenters paradox."

"Everyday observations suggest, however, that presenters, that is, individuals who are attempting to create impressions, fail to anticipate this averaging-like process on the part of evaluators," they wrote in a paper soon to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Check out the U-M faculty discussing their research below:

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


the major

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 11:57 p.m.

I would definitely appreciate the ipod and the itunes card more. This study is silly.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 7:28 a.m.

Someone should have told the fellow I watched buy 11 $100 gift cards while in the grocery checkout lane a few days ago. ;-) The upside of this is that, while people "average out" the value of such gifts, it still makes Visa, Master Card and American Express very happy. Happy Christmas, Corporate America ™!

Big B

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 10:59 p.m.

So if I get a Lexus with a big red bow and an iPod it'll really feel like I got two Hyundais... interesting. If anyone wants to try this out on me I'd be happy to test the theory.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 8:41 p.m.

I think people react differently when responding to researchers' questions than face-to-face with a loved one giving them a gift.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 6:59 p.m.

And what do they say about the posted salaries of U of M personnel?


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 2:14 p.m.

Does anybody really care? Its suppose to be a time of making other people happy!


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 1:17 p.m.

In my opinion, the greatest gift of all that can be given is the true gift of friendship, love and sharing life. All material gifts big and small should be received with graciously and with a thank you.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 1:46 p.m.

The best things in life are not things


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 12:08 p.m.

If you are giving gifts to impress the receiver, you should re-evaluate your priorities. If you are making general statements about people based on surveys, interviews, and focus groups, you should add in a huge plus/minus range on the probability that you are even close to being correct. Is the business school confusing what a corporate marketing plan should include and what a family gift should be?