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Carried out by Cindy Chan from the University of Toronto Scarborough along with Cassie Mogilner from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, together the pair looked at how relationships between a gift giver and recipient were affected across four separate studies.
Although past research has already looked at what is enjoyed more, a material gift or an experience, this new research was unique in that it looked at the pro-social consequences of gifting and how effective gifts are in building relationships.
The four studies showed that experiential gifts are more effective than material gifts at improving relationships from the recipient's perspective, with Chan explaining that "The reason experiential gifts are more socially connecting is that they tend to be more emotionally evocative."
"An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it -- like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa -- and is more intensely emotional than a material possession."
However in one of the studies the authors did find that a gift could elicit a similar response and help to also strengthen a relationship if it was an emotionally evocative gift, such as a framed photo or jewelry engraved with a loving message.
For those still stuck for what to give this holiday season Chan advises, "Consider someone's favorite hobby or something new they've always wanted to do," or a material gifts that is tied to an experience, such as gifting a loved one a CD of music that reminds them of a concert was enjoyed together.
"Often the focus is only on whether someone likes a gift rather than focusing on a fundamental objective of gift giving, and that is fostering relationships between giver and recipient," she adds.
"People often struggle with the challenge of choosing what to give someone. If you want to give them something that will make them feel closer to you, give an experience."
The research can be found published online in the Journal of Consumer Research.