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Experiential gifts: easier for parents, better for students

How experiences create social and academic benefits.

It’s early November, and we all know what that means: it’s time to start shopping for those “perfect” gifts and figure out how to get it all delivered and wrapped on time. After a year and a half of disrupted schedules and living off Amazon deliveries, you can be forgiven if you don’t want to spend your holiday collecting more “things” that will get stuck somewhere in the broken supply chain until they eventually pile up in your house. 

There’s only so much good that stuff can do anyway. Meanwhile, studies are increasingly showing that experiential gift-giving, rather than material gift-giving, has neurological benefits that help students academically and socially. So why not skip the shipping delays altogether this year, and invest in experiences?

One of the primary benefits of experiential gifts is that experiences are more emotionally evocative than simple items. Cassie Mogilner, an associate professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, has been researching how relationships between a gift giver and recipient are affected. “Often the focus is only on whether someone likes a gift rather than focusing on a fundamental objective of gift-giving, and that is fostering relationships between giver and recipient.”¹ Sure, a handful of new games is exciting when a kid opens them, but the excitement can be fleeting. Experiences and personal growth bring more lasting happiness than objects; the memories of a concert are often more treasured than the $75 hoodie being sold at the door.

There’s another reason that experiences tend to lead to more happiness than traditional gifts: it’s harder to compare! Cornell psychology professor Thomas Gilovich also studies the benefits of experiential purchases. He asserts that “experiences tend to make people happier because they are less likely to measure the value of their experiences by comparing them to those of others.” 

This is a concept pretty near to Applerouth’s heart. So many students are overwhelmed by comparing their test scores and academics that our tutors make sure to focus on and celebrate the growth of an individual. But there’s a more direct reason we at Applerouth are on the Experiential Gift Express — experiences are good for your brain!

A 2020 study aimed to investigate the effects of gift exchange on cognitive performance and brain activity.² They found that the social benefits that result from receiving a gift lead not only to increases in brain function but also to growth in “frontal regions that are the most implicated in social, prosocial, and cooperative mechanisms.” In short, receiving a gift while working on a difficult task (such as surviving high school) can strengthen emotional connection and appreciation and help fuel the brain to make new connections! 

Perhaps the best part for us parents and guardians who work so hard to make the holidays special: experiential gifts can help build your connection with your student. Cassie Mogilner says “when recipients receive an experience, regardless of whether they share in that experience with the gift giver, they feel more connected to the gift giver as a result of it, compared to receiving a material gift.” You don’t need to be at every tutoring session or day of summer camp with your child for them to know that you believed and invested in them. “The thing,” according to Mogilner, “… is the emotion that gets evoked when you’re consuming the gift. It’s beyond the emotion you feel during the gift exchange.” The confidence your child will feel after achieving their academic goals is a gift with lifelong value. 

So why not go for something that will benefit you and your student alike this year, and slip an experiential gift into the mix? 

If you’re looking for an experiential academic gift, Applerouth’s BEST private test prep deal of the year starts Monday, November 22. During this busy time of year it’s kind of hard to argue with a special deal that provides long-term value – no shipping or wrapping paper required!


¹ University of Toronto. “There’s a science to gift giving: experiences are better than material items.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 December 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161215143300.htm>.

² Balconi, M., Fronda, G. The “gift effect” on functional brain connectivity. Inter-brain synchronization when prosocial behavior is in action. Sci Rep 10, 5394 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-62421-0


Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 866-789-PREP (7737) or info@applerouth.com.