While the organised among us will already have purchased, wrapped and tagged our Christmas gifts, for those beginning to panic at the task ahead, there is helpful scientific advice: don't agonise over picking the perfect present.
Psychologists have decided the old belief that "it's the thought that counts" is simply not true. It's the gift. So you might as well ask the recipient what he or she wants.
According to Nick Epley, a lecturer in behavioural science at the University of Chicago: "The common wisdom is that the receiver values the amount of time you spent thinking about the gift, trying to get it right. This is a mistaken assumption." In a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in November, Epley contends that receivers do not care how much thought and effort went into buying a gift; they care whether they like it or not.
"If you give me a gift, I don't necessarily think about the amount of time you spent getting the gift. I think about the gift," said Epley.
The scientists admit that their somewhat unromantic analysis does not address the pleasure of giving. "What is lost in this is that, in a gift exchange, it's not just the gift receiver who benefits; the gift giver gets a lot of pleasure," concedes Epley.