February 13, 2009

What’s better: A meal out, or a gift?

Sharing an experience like a restaurant meal can be better than a material gift, but only if the experience is positive, U.S. researchers say.

Leonardo Nicolao and Julie Irwin at the University of Texas at Austin and Joseph K. Goodman of Washington University in St. Louis conducted a study on buying gifts versus doing something else for a special occasion, like Valentine's Day.

We have studied the effects of negative purchases -- ones where the results went poorly, Irwin said. Imagine that really terrible play or restaurant meal -- it is tougher to recover from picking the wrong experience than from picking the wrong thing.

The study, scheduled to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research, said sad experiences stay with a person longer than bad material purchases.

However, if a person has a good reason to suspect that the experience will turn out well -- is it her favorite restaurant, or the movie she has been hinting about -- then experiences are the way to go and will leave your valentine happier and more appreciative longer than any material gift could, the study authors said.