Gift wrap has adorned our presents as long as paper has been around, since the Chinese invented paper in 105 AD.
"It's a great art," said Loren Moberg, who oversees gift wrap at a Bealls department store. "It's almost like you don't want to open the present when it looks so beautiful."
But new research suggests venerable gift wrap can be perilous, as the mind wonders about what's inside—and begins to set expectations.
"Gift wrapping can hurt," said Nathan Novemsky, Ph. D., a professor in Yale University's schools of management and psychology.
Spurred by his family's reactions to gifts he gave them, Novemsky has begun looking into what consumers' anticipate when a gift is wrapped. He discovered that the more ornate wrapping is, the higher the recipient got their hopes up for a fantastic present.
That then led to a greater likelihood that they would be disappointed.
The bottom line: Less is more when wrapping.
"I wouldn't go over the top," he said. "I wouldn't get the beautiful bow, I wouldn't get the glossy paper with the embossed patterns, I wouldn't spent the time or the effort on that because I think that might backfire."
Novemsky said this wrapping ricochet was particularly pronounced when gift givers attempted to compensate for a ho-hum present, concealing it in opulent wrapping.
"When a gift is a little disappointing and it shows up in nice wrapping, people are even less satisfied with it," he said.
Leaving a gift completely unwrapped "wasn't the end of the world," in Novemsky's studies.
We took Yale's findings for a spin at Westfield Brandon Town Center.
A totally unwrapped gift was a non-starter for shoppers like Dee Dee Starkey.
"Where the fun in that?" she asked. "You have to have wrapping."
We also wrapped two identical presents in different wrap and asked shoppers to choose which one they expected to contain the better gift. One was covered in ordinary snowman paper; the other was wrapped in sophisticated red with a puffy bow.
Starkey chose the bow.
"This looks more elegant," she said. "It looks like it would be the better gift."
Near Santa's workshop, Tiffany Scrozzo made the same selection—the big red bow.
"If I got this, I'd think there's something great in there," she said. But if it weren't ‘great,' Yale says she'd be even more disappointed.
"That's true," said shopper Lois Venoy. "I use brown paper bags."
Venoy said expectations are low—so her family is happy with every gift, every time.
"Every time," she said.
"I think Lois is on to something," offered Novemsky.
If you're still wrapping presents, the doctor's orders are clear.
"I would say scale it back," Novemsky said.