The Art of Gifting: Academic Study Reveals the Impact Gifting Has On Health And Wellbeing

Notonthehighstreet finds that over two fifths (45%) of Brits[1] will likely gift more this year. Over a quarter of these gifters (28%) say they will be gifting more to make up for lost time during the pandemic.

With two fifths of Brits (39%) saying that buying a gift makes them happy, online marketplace notonthehighstreet and UCL professor, Daniel Richardson have launched a new academic study revealing the psychology behind the nation’s love of gifting.


On average respondents[2] spend 28 days searching for the right gift ahead of key celebrations with most feeling a positive emotion to gifting as nearly a fifth (18%) say it’s what they look forward to the most. However, for some people the pressure of getting it right (17%) or feeling the need to undertake a huge research effort (12%), can make it seem an overwhelming process. Just over one in five (21%) say they don’t feel any emotion at all when buying a gift.

UCL Professor Daniel Richardson explores the emotional typologies of what makes people great at gift giving and what receivers actually expect.

  • Express yourself: Everyone, gift givers and gift receivers, has the opinion that a good gift should reflect the attitudes and preferences of the receiver. Surprisingly though, gifts that reflect the giver’s attributes have the strongest effect on the relationship between the giver and receiver (Aknin & Human, 2015).
  • Express your relationship: Receivers like gifts that reflect their relationship or history with the giver. Gifts that represent the connection between giver and receiver are highly valued, (Givi & Galak, 2017) and the appreciation of the gift lasts longer and sentimental gifts last longer (Yang Y & Galak, 2015).
  • Don’t give anything at all: Much of the psychological literature on gift giving compares objects of different value, type, or desirability. However, the most recent research suggests that sometimes the most treasured gifts are but experiences.


Thinking about the emotional impact that the process of gifting has on Brits, two in five (39%) say buying a gift for a loved one makes them happy. With over a third (35%) of people who are gifting more this year saying that it’s because they love seeing the recipient’s facial expression, UCL Professor Daniel Richardson identifies that giving a gift can have pervasive and profound effects to the gift giver, the receiver, and their relationship. But it’s important to also recognise that the process of choosing a gift can sometimes be fraught.

Giving a gift results in positive effects on the physical and emotional health of the gift giver. For example, there is an emotional pay-off simply to seeing other people happy and can be described as ‘emotional contagion’ (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994). When people are around people displaying a particular emotion, gift givers tend to share that feeling as gift givers have a tendency to mimic the expressions of others.


The process of gifting someone is also an effective medicine for lowering blood pressure. A paper that examined patients who had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and tracked how often the patients gave gifts or gave donations to others. Remarkably, the people who give more to others had reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings, comparable to the effects of antihypertensive drug (Whillans et al., 2016). Similarly, other researchers have found that those who give to others have reduced the impact of stress on their mortality, and thereby actually increased their life span (Poulin et al., 2013).


Prof Daniel Richardson from UCL said: “Gift giving plays a key role in forming and strengthening social relationships. Given that we are fundamentally a social species, the simple act of giving a gift can have pervasive effects on our health and wellbeing. For this reason, the pressure to get it right can be overwhelming. We are highly motivated to get exactly the right reaction from a gift receiver so with notonthehighstreet, we have identified the emotional behaviours on what makes a right gift giver through the Art of Gifting report.”


Claire Davenport, CEO at notonthehighstreet said: “For the past 16 years notonthehighstreet has been helping people everywhere to find products and gifts with a difference from the UK’s best small creative businesses. While we know people come to us to find gifts for every occasion, it’s fascinating to see just how differently we all approach the giving of gifts in the study from UCL – and to remember that giving the perfect gift brings the feel-good factor to everyone involved!”


This year, Birthdays and Christmas are key occasions when most Brits will be splurging the most as over a third (35% and 46% respectively) say they will be spending over £50 on presents for each event. Whilst working with over 5,000 small business Partners, notonthehighstreet is a helping hand to those who struggle to find the right gifts by releasing a first of its kind study delving into the neuroscience of gifting.


[1] 45% is a combination of ‘yes’ and ‘maybe’

[2] Respondents who do not ‘buy things for people when they see them and save them for an occasion’ or ‘don’t spend any time searching for the right gift’

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