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Be Careful What You Wish For This Holiday Season

SUNDAY Dec. 20, 2009 -- Think twice before you put that waffle maker or other "must-have" item on your holiday wish list. You may get it and find out you don't really need it or use it as much as you thought you would, a new study suggests.

That's because "sometimes the reality of owning an object doesn't quite measure up to our expectations. The cappuccino machine is a hassle to clean, the fancy navigation system is not necessary for most driving, and no one has time to play the new piano," study author Jeffrey Vietri, a psychology instructor at Albright College in Reading, Pa., said in a news release.

He and his colleagues asked 164 people to predict how often they would use an item they hoped to receive during the holiday season. The following spring, the study participants reported how often they'd used the gift since they received it.

"Fifty-nine percent of gifts were used less frequently than the recipients had expected to use them," Vietri said. "Recipients predicted that the gifts would be used close to twice as frequently as they actually were."

The researchers also found that informed observers -- people who saw a recipient's prediction of how much they would use an item -- made more accurate predictions.

"The informed observers took the recipient's predictions and poured salt on them. If the recipient said they'd use something three times a day, the informed observers predicted they would use it closer to once a day. When they saw low predictions, they guessed the recipient would use it even less," Vietri said.

The study was published in the most recent issue of the quarterly journal Social Influence.

"Overspending and clutter are a predictable result of acquiring something with the mistaken belief you will use the item more often than you actually will," Vietri said. "Maybe a small step toward solving the problems of savings, clutter and the environment is to consult with others about our purchases and take their prediction seriously."

More information

Get tips from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on how to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Posted: December 2009


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