Christmas is in 3 days’ time. As usual, colorful sale banners are stuck to the glass windows of shops along Orchard Road, an inevitable reminder that it is time for all to purchase presents for loved ones as part of the Christmas tradition. It is apparent that we tend to purchase more expensive and sentimental gifts for people closer to us (unless you’re really rich or/and generous), while perhaps giving simpler gifts to acquaintances or colleagues. How can our relationship with these different groups of people explain our choice of gifts? Here is a short post explaining this phenomenon through the two out of four types of relationships as proposed by Dr Alan Fiske (1991, 1992).
11. Communal Sharing
Within these relationships, members often emphasize group identity more so than individuality. Every member is treated the same, with what is taken and contributed not explicitly tracked by members within the community. Examples of such relationships include relationships between family members.
Can you remember receiving expensive gifts from your parents or relatives as a child (while not necessarily having to give one in exchange)? This is an example of communal sharing. Between family members, the practice of gift exchange is not calculative and presents are given out of love, and to express that the individual sees the person as part of their in-group. Therefore, one member of the in-group may not expect a gift in return when presenting a gift to another.
22. Equality Matching
Equality sharing is based on the idea of- as the name suggests- equality, balance and reciprocity. People keep track of what they receive and are motivated to return what has been exchanged equivalently. Examples of such relationships include relationships between acquaintances.
Imagine you sent to your colleague a beautiful Christmas card via snail mail. Over the next few years, your colleague does not send you any Christmas cards. How likely are you to continue sending her Christmas cards over the subsequent years? When sending gifts or Christmas cards to acquaintances or people an individual is not that close to, there is a tendency for the individual to explicitly keep track of whether their actions have been reciprocated before future action. Thus, if one were to receive a card from an acquaintance, he/she is likely to send one back in return. This works for the opposite scenario as well.