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Sloppy gift wrapping may actually be beneficial, study shows

A University of Nevada study proves it's probably not worth the stress to try and wrap gifts perfectly.
Badly wrapped, messy Christmas present
If the presents under your Christmas tree look something like this, don't fret. It may work in your favor!Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

If you've never fully mastered the art of gift wrapping, the holidays can be a stressful time. But a new study from the University of Nevada has some welcome news for gift givers who struggle to make their presents look perfect.

Researchers conducted a round of experiments to examine how the quality of a wrapping job affects the recipient's attitude toward the gift. Using the "expectation disconfirmation theory," the group discovered that those immaculately wrapped presents don't necessarily make gift recipients any happier than their sloppy counterparts.

As it turns out, when you receive a messily wrapped gift from a loved one, you get all the positive feelings and appreciate their effort rather than focusing as much on what's inside the box. On the other hand, when you get a gift that looks like Martha Stewart wrapped it, the gift inside doesn't always live up to the hype.

"Based on participants' answers to various questions, it suggested that the reason why this happens is because the neat wrapping sets higher expectations for the gift inside, which makes it harder for the gifts to live up to those expectations. When the gifts are unwrapped, the recipient is a bit disappointed whereas when it's wrapped sloppily, expectations are lower so the gift is more of a pleasant surprise," Jessica Rixom, Ph.D., a co-author on the study, told TODAY Home.

Wrapping Christmas presents
We can't all wrap presents perfectly!Getty Images stock

So, what inspired this out-of-the-box study? Rixom said she first got the idea while working at a chocolate shop in Oxford, England, after graduating college.

"They offered a gift-wrapping service so I learned how to wrap very neatly with crisp edges, just the right amount of paper, etc. I started wrapping my own gifts that way and many years later, when wrapping presents with a friend, I noticed that all of the gifts in my pile were neat while all of theirs were messy, even though they were trying. This made us wonder whether the way the gift was wrapped would have any influence on how the gifts themselves were perceived and that’s how it started," Rixom said.

The recent study also examines how your relationship with a gift giver can affect your perception of the present.

"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. 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," Rixom said.

Throughout the study, researchers discovered that people like a gift from friends more if the wrapping looks a bit messy.

"This occurs because of expectations. But the opposite actually happens when gifts come from acquaintances," Rixom said. "In other words, if you get a gift with really fancy wrapping from an acquaintance, it can signal that the gift giver values the relationship and can lead you to enjoy the gift more."

In general, it's great news for those of us who are less crafty. As the countdown to Christmas rolls along, Rixom wants shoppers to know that sometimes, it's OK to have a perfectly imperfect wrapping job: "I think the big takeaway is that the gift giver should think about who they’re giving the gift to when they’re getting ready to start wrapping. If it is a friend, then it might not be necessary to put in the extra effort needed to wrap the gift perfectly but with an acquaintance, it’s worth putting in the time to wrap the gift neatly so the recipient will know that you value the relationship.