It all comes down to expectations.


New research shared in the Journal of Consumer Psychology flies in the face of everything our mamas ever taught us about gift-giving.

According to a recent study, recipients are more inclined to like what’s inside if a present is wrapped poorly, which means that wrapping gifts sloppily versus neatly can be a more effective gift-giving strategy.


Researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno, who specialize in marketing, set out to test the effects of impeccable wrapping on expectations.  What they found is that a spectacularly wrapped gift (à la Rowan Atkinson in Love Actually) leads its recipient to assume that what’s inside must be equally spectacular. Otherwise, why put in all that effort? A gift that doesn’t match the wrapping—either in effort, cost, or both—often causes disappointment.

"When we receive a gift from a friend, we use the wrapping as a cue about the gift inside and form expectations," Jessica Rixom, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Nevada, Reno, said in a news release. "If it's wrapped neatly, we set high expectations, and it's hard for the gift to live up to those expectations."

But another study conducted by the same group showed that while presents wrapped with imperfect creases and lopsided bows go over better with friends and family, that’s not the case with acquaintances. Researchers found that when relationships are less established, recipients view the neatness of the wrapping paper as an indicator of how much the gift giver values the relationship. Gifts that are well-wrapped suggest that the giver views the relationship as important. This positivity increases the chances that the recipient will like the gift.

"If someone is questioning whether a gift is desirable for a friend and they try to make it more appealing by wrapping it well, this strategy may backfire in the end," Rixom explained. "On the other hand, it may be wise to go the extra mile with wrapping when giving a gift to an acquaintance."

Well that certainly clears up some time in our schedule this holiday season!