Gift giving with emotions

Bradley J. Ruffle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


This paper presents a two-player, psychological game-theoretic model of gift giving where emotions matter. Beliefs enter directly into players' payoff functions. Surprise, disappointment, embarrassment and pride arise from comparing players' beliefs about the gift they will give or receive to the actual choice of gift. Depending on beliefs and the cost of the gift, a gift-giving, a non-gift-giving, or only a mixed-strategy equilibrium may exist. Even after allowing for a definition of welfare which incorporates emotions and fairness, all equilibria of the model make the giver worse off. Implications of the model for holiday gift giving, tipping and labor relations are explored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-420
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1999


  • Gift giving
  • Labor relations
  • Psychological equilibrium
  • Reciprocity
  • Welfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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