Presentation: Papers We’re Reading, Week 2

December 1, 2020  |  By: Lindsay Juarez

This is a timely study on how the quality of gift-wrapping can change people’s attitudes about the present inside. The research team includes a married couple, and we speculated that one of them is a sloppy gift-wrapper; some Googling and a local news story suggests that perhaps they both are! This is what we call “me-search.”

Presentation Matters: The Effect of Wrapping Neatness on Gift Attitudes

In the first study, researchers gave participants a wrapped gift: a coffee mug. The gift was wrapped in either a precise, neat manner or was sloppily wrapped. Sloppily-wrapped mugs got slightly higher evaluations than their neat counterparts. The researchers hypothesized that this was due to expectations being set too high in the neat condition and pleasantly disconfirmed in the sloppy condition. 

In studies 2 and 3, the researchers used an online sample and pictures of gifts with gift-wrapping to untangle how people evaluate gifts from friends vs. acquaintances. For gifts from friends, they again found that sloppily-wrapped gifts were liked more. However, when the hypothetical gift was from an acquaintance, people liked the tidy gift more than the sloppy one, perhaps because recipients used the wrapping effort as an indication of how much the gift-giver liked them. 

Before you decide to intentionally give sloppy presents to all your nearest and dearest, keep in mind that these were hypothetical, mid-tier priced gifts and online participants, so the effect might not be as dramatic in practice, or different for very cheap or expensive presents. Good luck!

Rixom, J. M., Mas, E. M., & Rixom, B. A. (2020). Presentation matters: The effect of wrapping neatness on gift attitudes. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 30(2), 329-338.

Re-examining the experiential advantage in consumption: A meta-analysis and review.

We’re on a gifts and happiness kick, in case you couldn’t tell. 😉 One very popular finding in behavioral science is that buying experiences rather than objects tends to make us happier. This experiential advantage has been studied with real and hypothetical purchases; with student, adult, and online populations; and using a variety of different happiness outcome measures. This paper reports the findings of a meta-analysis, which attempts to find all the relevant studies, published or not, then codes and standardizes those results to calculate an overall effect. 

So what’d they find? Should you stop giving objects and give up gift-wrapping after all? This study suggests that there is a reliable experiential advantage of about d = 0.38. However, the researchers caution that publication bias (published results are more likely to be positive, and therefore larger than non-published results) might reduce the effect by about a third — but that’s still a good-sized effect! For example, the effect size of taking ibuprofen on reducing pain is about d = 0.28. 

The evidence suggests that part of why experiences are so impactful in terms of happiness is because they’re more likely to be done with others and thus create or strengthen social ties. So if you’re racking your brains for gift ideas, consider sharing an experience with someone, or take an experiential approach to a gift that is an object. For instance, a cookbook is an object, but one that can lead to memorable experiences. 

Weingarten, E., & Goodman, J. K. (2020). Re-examining the experiential advantage in consumption: A meta-analysis and review. Journal of Consumer Research

ENHANCE: Evidence for the efficacy of a comprehensive intervention program to promote subjective well-being

Can you teach people to be happier? What makes that training effective? Can you scale that training online? This study evaluates a 12-week intervention to find that 1) yes, people can increase happiness; 2) this increase in happiness can be maintained over time; 3) increases in happiness are driven by new skills and habits; and 4) online delivery is just as good as in-person.  

For academic researchers, happiness, or subjective wellbeing, is made up of three dimensions: life satisfaction, the presence of positive affect, and the relative absence of negative affect. This intervention was designed to teach participants skills and habits to support those dimensions. Across the 12 weeks, participants worked through 4 modules that focused on the core self, new experiences, social relationships, and habit formation.

The researchers used a wait-list control trial to evaluate efficacy. For a participatory intervention like this one, there’s a baseline level of motivation required. If someone never opens your workbook, it’s not fair to say that the workbook activities aren’t effective; no one ever saw them! By recruiting a group of enthusiastic volunteers and then randomly assigning half of the participants to a wait-list, researchers can survey both groups to see if changes are due to the intervention or if this type of happiness enthusiast was going to increase their wellbeing anyway. 

In this case, the intervention worked. Immediately after the program, participants reported higher life satisfaction and positive affect, along with lower stress and negative affect, compared to the wait-list control group. These changes seemed to be driven by the new skills and habits the participants had learned. And three months later, program participants still reported higher life satisfaction and positive affect. 

Interested in the program yourself? The research team made their materials available here:


Heintzelman, S. J., Kushlev, K., Lutes, L. D., Wirtz, D., Kanippayoor, J. M., Leitner, D., Oishi, S. & Diener, E. (2020). ENHANCE: Evidence for the efficacy of a comprehensive intervention program to promote subjective well-being. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 26(2), 360-383.


See week 1 here.


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