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Yet, according to their research, 78 per cent of respondents reported most recently buying material gifts rather than an experience. Those considering material gifts can also highlight the experience it provides, notes Chan. Giving a friend a CD of music that reminds them of a concert enjoyed together can mimic the same effect as the experience of the concert itself.

In one of the studies, Chan found that emotionally evocative gifts can also strengthen relationships. Emotional material gifts like a joke-of-the-day calendar, a framed photo or jewelry engraved with a loving message can be very effective gifts in that regard.

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Marketers should also package experiential gifts in a way that makes it easier for recipients to consume them so they don't have to be tied to using the gifts by a particular day or time," she says. The research also fits into a broader body of research that suggests using discretionary spending for experiences rather than more material possessions.

Chan points to honeymoon registries that allow people to buy a dinner, scuba lessons or chipping in on airfare as prime examples.

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If you want to give them something that will make them feel closer to you, give an experience. Materials provided by University of Toronto. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Science reveals the secret to buying gifts

Science News. Story Source: Materials provided by University of Toronto. ScienceDaily, 15 December University of Toronto.

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There was just one situation in which the thought counted: when someone received a bad gift from a friend or relative. The only choices available to the givers were cheaper items like a pen, a deck of cards, a key chain or a refrigerator magnet. When the recipients opened one of these cheaper gifts, they were predictably disappointed, but less so if the gift had been chosen for them by a friend or relative rather than picked randomly.

Otherwise, the best reason to try hard is for your own pleasure in choosing the gift — which can be quite real, as several studies have shown. When people spend time thinking about a gift for someone else, they feel closer to the person, and that makes them happier even if it does nothing for the recipient.

The Science of Gifting: How to Pick a Better Present

Zhang and Dr. An earlier version of this article misidentified the institution where Mary Steffel is on the faculty. It is Northeastern University, not the University of Cincinnati.

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