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Abstract

Gift-givers don’t always give what receivers want. This mismatch has often been attributed to givers’ failure to understand receivers’ preferences. We propose that the cause lies deeper, in the differing motivations of the giver and the receiver. We find that the giver pursues and derives enjoyment from the receiver’s spontaneous display of affective reactions (i.e., facial, vocal, or gestural expressions of emotion), more than from the receiver’s overall appreciation, as assumed in prior research. The distinction between the receiver’s affective reactions and the receiver’s overall appreciation arises because affective responses can occur before the receiver has formed the more deliberative assessment of overall appreciation. Thus, the giver often chooses gifts to maximize the receiver’s affect display, and forgoes gifts that could yield higher receiver appreciation. Consistent with this “smile-seeking” motive of the giver, we find that the preference discrepancy is mitigated when the giver cannot observe the receiver’s reactions. The giver’s “smile-seeking” motive also colors giver’s reported beliefs about the receiver’s preference. Across fourteen studies, we present findings that uniquely support the “smile-seeking” motive, and are not explained by existing gift-giving accounts or other alternative explanations.

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