The Neuropsychology of Gifting

Present: A Gift/In the Here and Now/To Give or Offer
A noun, adjective, and verb all in one.

  • Giving gifts creates a tide of oxytocin, the neuropeptide that signals safety, connection, and affection.
  • Receiving a desired present from a loved one and giving a gift to a loved one actually produces the same brain rewards.
  • The oxytocin effect is in motion during each step of gift-giving, from planning, shopping for the gift, wrapping it, and anticipating the response of the giftee.
  • Brain scans using fMRI technology showed that giving a present indicates simultaneous activity in the brain area associated with processing social interactions and the part of the brain that feels pleasure. Gifting is a pleasure-full interaction. (Learn more about the neuropsychological link between generosity and happiness.)
  • The monetary value of the gift was unimportant. Gifts do require sacrifice: thought, creativity, time, and money; but they don’t have to be expensive. One of my favorite gifts was a recipe, handwritten by a friend who was a renowned chef accompanied by a ‘voucher’ to cook it for me.
  • A present does not have to be a tangible object. Similar brain rewards were found by giving the gift of time (babysitting, helping cleaning out closets, dog walking), assistance (help with a project, home or office), or experience (a weekend away, spa time, a special exhibit).
  • Presents accompanied by a thoughtful message, letter, card, or note were greatly valued,. Messages that bring to mind shared moments, explanations about the significance of the gift, and the connection between the gifter and the giftee are a gift in themselves.

Also see the Mental Health Benefits of Random Acts of Kindness.

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