The Psychology Behind Gift Card Giving, Part Two

The following is part two of a four part series examining the different types of behavior patterns associated with purchasing gift cards, one of the more popular gift giving choices in this country. Read the first part here.

So why, you may ask, if a gift card is such a popular, mainstream and preferred gift, does it face consumer skepticism? Why is it that a gift our loved one desires the most is one we often hesitate to give? And why, if most consumers prefer an open loop gift card, are the vast majority of us delivering closed loop gift cards? If gift card consumer behavior often fails to respond to logic, then to what does it respond?

Enter psychotherapist Carl Jung’s theories around neurosis, the study dealing with tensions between polarizing attitudes between our ego and our unconscious. The theory recognizes psychological types, some of which categorize gift givers. According to psychologist Adriana Martinez, “more than extreme definitions of personality disorders, these categorizations aim to describe personality types common among all of us. They don’t refer to extreme disorder cases, but rather to the psychological type where many of us may fit. In fact, the ‘healthiest’ of us will overlap into two or more of these profiles,” she concludes.

  • Histrionic Profile: They are attention-seeking types that look to please others in order to be the center of attention. In their desire to please, they tend to be particularly generous, pleasing those in their immediate surroundings with gifts and compliments.
  • Obsessive Profile: They focus on retention, physical and emotional. They display a deep need to hold on possessions of all sorts. As such, they tend to be frugal and not overly generous.
  • Paranoid Profile: The types that will overanalyze, “What will they think (and usually take it to a worst case scenario) if I gift this or that?” As gift receivers, they may think, “Why are they giving me this, and what are they expecting in return?” As gift givers, they may think, “How can giving this backfire on me?”
  • Narcissistic Profile: Self-centered individuals that seek to feed their own ego over and over through their own actions and attitudes. They can prove to be the most generous types in order to make themselves feel, and portray themselves to others as, grandiose in their “generous” and “selfless” gestures. 
  • Phobic Profile: fearful individuals that seem to encounter fear in many of life’s experiences, including gifting. They will hesitate what to get, how much to spend, or even if to gift at all, for fear of doing the wrong thing or not meeting the recipient’s expectations.

There is yet another profile, which does not fall under the neurosis categorization. It is psychopaths, not to be confused with the extreme cases found in American jails, although the vast majority of the incarcerated fall into this profile.

  • Psychopathic Profile: They lack a general sense of guilt or empathy and are typically manipulative. They will give or gift as a function of what they may obtain in return.

These insights into individual psychological profiles help us understand the gifting motivators behind each psychological gifter type and explain the “irrationality” behind their behavior. But suffice it to say that, according to Martinez, “each and every one of us fit, to a larger or lesser extent, one or more of these profiles, and these profiles help explain our gifting behavioral patterns.”

(Part three will continue the examination of the different personality types and their respective traits when it comes to gift card giving.)

Carlos Tribino is the CMO of  the leading portal for gift cards online. During his current tenure, has doubled in traffic and sales over the past two years through a comprehensive digital strategy plan including SEO, PPC, display, social, e-Mail, blogging and PR activities. Previous to, Carlos served as V.P. Marketing & Recreation for Viacom, where he ran marketing and large scale events for the media giant’s top global brands in the south of Europe: MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. He was an integral part of the team that launched the 24- hour movie channel Paramount Channel and of the 2010 MTV European Music Awards.


About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit



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