The Psychology of Gifting

Isaac Buttke, Contributor

The mind is a powerful thing. Our brains regulate everything in our body, process all kinds of information, and make us feel things based on what’s going on around us.

What if I told you there was a way to harness the way people think to maximize your gift-giving? Everyone loves gifts, but taking various psychological principles into account can improve the impact of your gift and enhance your relationships with clients and employees far beyond what you might expect. Here we’ll walk through different schools of thought from the world of psychology to help you improve your gifting.

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

Ethos, pathos, and logos are known as the “modes of persuasion.” They date back to ancient Greece, where Aristotle originally came up with the concept and coined the three terms. The three modes are different approaches to appeal to an audience. In this instance, it is how you as a gift-giver can appeal to different feelings of employees or clients.


According to William M. Keith and Christian O. Lundberg (authors of “The Essential Guide to Rhetoric”), ethos is an appeal to the authority or the credibility of the person presenting, or in this case gifting. In fact, the way I started the first sentence was a perfect example of ethos in writing. I stated that this particular definition of ethos was by a pair of college professors who had written an entire book on the modes of persuasion and various applications of them. This establishes that the definition is coming from a credible source, and makes the reader more likely to believe what I write after that.

You might ask: How does this apply to gifting? On the surface, this seems like the principle that would apply the least to gift-giving. However, instead of focusing on authority and credibility, something that can be conveyed in gifting is status. If you are the owner of a high-end business and want prospective clients to know it, giving a lavish gift such as a tower of premium treats is sure to get that message across.


Pathos focuses on appealing to people through their emotional side. This makes a lot of sense just from looking at the word, as both the words sympathy and empathy are derived from pathos. Basically, any time a television advertisement pulls on your heart strings or a movie makes you cry, you’re seeing pathos in action.

For gifting, pathos is probably the easiest mode of persuasion to draw from. Showing gratitude for employees is the most common example of this, especially around the holidays. There have been different examples recently, especially in light of the pandemic. Companies who are bringing employees back to the office are giving out care packages to welcome them back from working at home.


For as emotional pathos is, logos is almost the direct opposite of it. As you can probably guess from the appearance of the word, logos is about appealing to people’s logic. This is a very common mode of persuasion, especially with people who are very numbers-driven.

This method seems a bit more difficult to incorporate into gifting, but it’s not impossible by any means. One way to look at it is how a gift can have practical value or how it can be reused later on. For example, some companies opt to send a package of treats that come in a box that can be used as a Post-it Note holder after the snacks are eaten.

Schedules of Reinforcement

Another way to incorporate psychology into your gifting strategies is to give with schedules of reinforcement in mind. Schedules of reinforcement are basically the frequency at which people are rewarded for positive behavior. This transitions very intuitively into gifting as you can imagine, but there are a couple different ways to utilize the schedules to your advantage: interval schedules and ratio schedules.

Interval Schedules

According to the University of Iowa’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, interval schedules reinforce behavior at certain intervals of time. This can be as short of a time period as a few seconds or as far apart as many years (though that may not be reinforcing a whole lot of behavior with that much of a gap). Interval schedules can also be broken down into two categories: fixed interval schedules and variable ratio schedules.

Fixed interval schedules are events that consistently happen the same time apart. The benefit of this schedule is that there’s frequently an increase in positive behavior as the time of the reinforcement approaches. One example of this in gifting would be the holiday season, where companies spread some holiday cheer with a gift to their employees.

On the other hand, variable interval schedules reinforce behaviors at inconsistent times. Generally, this produces more consistent behavior over the course of the time period since people don’t know when the next reward will come. In terms of gifting, receiving a gift at a random time can elicit an even more positive response from recipients. It can feel like a more personal “random act of kindness” that makes the employee or client feel even more appreciated than usual.

Ratio Schedules

Instead of time, ratio schedules reinforce behavior based on the number of responses or interactions. Just like interval schedules, ratio schedules can also be incorporated at a fixed or variable rate.

For fixed ratio schedules, recipients are being rewarded each time they reach a consistent benchmark. An example of this would be giving a commission to a salesperson for each sale that they make. When the benchmark to reach is larger, this method can increase responsiveness up to the benchmark before rapidly decreasing it afterward. In gifting, this type of reinforcement can be incorporated by giving a small bonus gift to a client for every ten purchases they make through your company.

As you can imagine by this point, variable ratio schedules reward the desired behavior after an inconsistent amount of responses. Similarly to the variable interval schedules, variable ratio schedules tend to produce a more steady responsiveness throughout a given time period. This method is most commonly associated with slot machines handing out major paydays at highly varied points. To gift using this method, you could identify an employee who put in a lot of effort on a project recently and give them a gift basket to thank them for their hard work. This wouldn’t be a recurring thing, but it would certainly incentivize them to continue putting their best foot forward for the company moving forward.

The brain is very complex, but with the right tools at your disposal, you can harness the power of psychology to get the most out of your gifting. Want more gifting ideas for any occasion? Reach out to Maple Ridge Farms today to maximize the effectiveness of your gifts!


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