Leider studies favor-trading in social networks, with special attention paid to the dynamics between people who feel indebted to one another. Leider has found that one reliable way to get better and more valuable presents from others is to deliberately give presents to people with whom we share a lot of friends. The more “dense” the social connection between two individuals, Leider said, the more obligated they feel to do right by each other by reciprocating. “The consequences if you don’t return a favor are bigger the more friends we have in common,” he said.
Thinking about gift-giving so strategically will no doubt strike many as repugnant. But regardless of what we may want to believe about the transformative power of the holidays, the fact is that human nature doesn’t go away just because we’re trying to be extra nice to one another. Giving gifts, in this context, is a delicate and predictable dance. We might as well know the right steps.
Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. E-mail email@example.com.