Why do guests do this? In 2011, Francesca Gino from Harvard and Frank Flynn from Stanford conducted an experiment to find out. They recruited ninety people and then allocated them to one of two conditions. Half became ‘senders’ while the other half became ‘receivers’. The receivers were then asked to go to Amazon and come up with a wish list of gifts priced between $10 and $30. Meanwhile, the senders were allocated to either choose a gift from the wish list, or a unique gift.
The result were emphatic. The senders expected that recipients would prefer unique gifts – ones they had chosen themselves. They supposed that recipients would welcome the personal touch. But they were wrong. Recipients would welcome the personal touch. But they were wrong. Recipients, in fact, much preferred gifts from their own list. The psychologist Adam Grant reports the same pattern with friends giving and receiving wedding gifts. Senders prefer unique gifts; recipients prefer gifts from their wedding list.
Why? It hinges upon perspective blindness. Senders find it difficult to step beyond their own frame of reference. They imagine how they would feel receiving the gift that they have selected.
Stanford psychologist Lee Ross hit upon this in 1977. He fashioned a sandwich board emblazoned with the slogan ‘Eat at Joe’s’ and asked randomly selected students to wear it around campus for thirty minutes. They also had to estimate how many other students would put themselves forward for the task. Those who declared themselves willing to wear the sign assumed that the majority (62%) would also agree to it. On the other hand, those who politely refused believed that most people (67%) would find it too stupid to undertake. In both cases, the students imagined themselves to be in the popular majority.
Excerpt from: The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli