Terribly-Wrapped Presents Make People Happier

by Christina Marfice
Originally Published: 

No need to practice your gift wrapping before Christmas, according to this study

Step away from the tape. If you’re one of those types of people whose best attempt at gift wrapping is a mess of crumpled paper and lop-sided bows, you may actually be better at Christmas than those who have Martha Stewart-level wrapping skills. A new study shows that terribly wrapped gifts actually make people happier, so go ahead and just slap that wrapping paper together however it seems to fit, because whoever is receiving your badly wrapped gift will have a better Christmas for it.

The study, which was done at the University of Nevada, tested what researchers called “expectation disconfirmation theory” in people who received gifts. What they found is that when a person receives a present from a loved one that’s sloppily wrapped, they really appreciate the gift wrapping effort that was made, even though the result isn’t great. That appreciation leaves them flooded with positive, happy emotions. On the other hand, when a person receives a present that’s perfectly and beautifully wrapped, they’re more likely to end up with negative emotions because it’s possible that the gift inside the wrapping won’t live up to its perfect, beautiful exterior.

Or, in the words of Jessica Rixom, Ph.D., one of the study’s co-authors, “Based on participants’ answers to various questions, it suggested that the reason why this happens is because the neat wrapping sets higher expectations for the gift inside, which makes it harder for the gifts to live up to those expectations. When the gifts are unwrapped, the recipient is a bit disappointed whereas when it’s wrapped sloppily, expectations are lower so the gift is more of a pleasant surprise.”

Rixom got the idea for this study when she worked at a chocolate shop, where wrapping people’s purchases (absolutely perfectly, we might add) was part of her job.

“They offered a wrapping service so I learned how to wrap very neatly with crisp edges, just the right amount of paper, etc. I started wrapping my own gifts that way and many years later, when wrapping presents with a friend, I noticed that all of the gifts in my pile were neat while all of theirs were messy, even though they were trying,” she said. “This made us wonder whether the way the gift was wrapped would have any influence on how the gifts themselves were perceived and that’s how it started.”

The state of the wrapping job isn’t the only factor at play here. The study also examined how people’s relationships with the gift givers affected their emotions upon unwrapping a present. But it gives all of us sloppy wrappers out here in the world a good excuse to forget about getting those crisp edges. Plus, this means the kids can definitely wrap gifts on their own this year. Just think of how happy you’ll be when you’re unwrapping their very sloppy attempts. Science says so.

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