A new study uses "expectation disconfirmation theory" to support messy wrappers everywhere

By Hannah Chubb
December 23, 2019 10:40 AM

When it comes to wrapping presents, we can’t all be is as gifted as the elves in Santa’s workshop.

But if you often find yourself just a tad short on paper or a little heavy on tape, there’s no need to feel guilty for your less-than-pristine presentation. In fact, you may be better off than those who’ve mastered the 6-inch ribbon curl. 

A recent study found that wrapping your gifts in a sloppy manner may actually make the recipient have a more positive reaction to what’s inside. Here’s why. 

Researchers from the University of Nevada looked at how the outside of a present impacts the way the giftee feels about what’s inside, and found that a perfectly-wrapped present can actually make the gift inside feel less special. They published their findings in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in October, finalizing a study titled “Presentation Matters: The Effect of Wrapping Neatness on Gift Attitudes.” 

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The researchers used “expectation disconfirmation theory” to explain their findings: A neatly wrapped present can set a high standard for what’s inside — something that can lead recipients to be disappointed when they tear the paper away, because their expectations were so high. The reverse is also true: A sloppily-wrapped present may set up low expectations, making the gift inside seem better. 

According to the study, this finding is only true when it comes to giving gifts to close friends and loved ones. When presenting a package to an acquaintance, the study found that it is better to give a well-wrapped gift, as wrapping neatness may say more about the relationship between the gift giver and recipient than the gift itself. 

“With friends we typically know where the relationship stands so when we receive the gift, we use the wrapping as a cue or signal about the gift inside,” Jessica Rixom, Ph.D., one of the co-authors of the study, explained to TODAY.  “But with acquaintances, there is more ambiguity around the relationship so we use the wrapping as a cue for how the gift giver sees the relationship, rather than as a signal about the gift inside.” 

RELATED VIDEO: Windsor Castle Gets Decorated for Christmas

Still trying to up your game? Check out these holiday wrapping hacks from celebrity event designer Marcy Blum that will save your un-crafty soul this holiday season.

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