Christmas gifts can be viewed as just another economic transaction. The warm feeling that comes from giving could hide a mundane investment in social relationships. A gift entails a hidden obligation to treat you nicely, creating a special bond between the giver and the recipient.
And research indicates that small gifts may be more effective than large ones. As economists estimate that big gifts, being too blatant, tend to raise the receiver’s suspicion. They generate suspicion that the benefactor has a hidden agenda, and trigger an impulse to restrain reciprocal behavior.
On the other hand, not giving at all isn’t just neutral on potential recipients: it generates negative behavior in return. This demonstrates that in gift-giving, like so many other social exchanges, too much is bad, but nothing is worse.