Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Using Digital Layers to Evoke Nostalgia in Hybrid Gifting.

  Rebecca Gibson (2019 cohort)

Gifting is a tradition which serves multiple social and economic purposes [1, 2], often associated with enabling social integration and bonding [3]. This work utilises the emerging hybrid gifting model, which involves merging physical and digital objects to create a single gift [4]. Existing work in the field suggests the idea of ‘digital layers’ or ‘digital wrapping’ to wrap physical objects in digital materials, and vice versa [4]. It is debatable what form these layers may take; one option could be to explore a layer which evokes the emotion of nostalgia. Nostalgic episodes often elicit positive experiences such as forming social connections and providing a sense of meaning in life [5, 6]. On the other hand, it can be a bittersweet emotion with elements of sadness and loss [5]. The complex emotion is often integrated into commercial activities such as advertising and marketing [7], despite evident commercial applications of the emotion, it remains unseen what happens when we integrate nostalgia within gift exchanges.

So far to explore this area the ‘nostalgic gifting study’ focused on pairs of participants, with one gift-giver and one recipient in each. Gift givers uploaded a nostalgic image and message, which was attached via QR code to a physical box of chocolates. Gift receivers were then able to unwrap both physical and digital elements of their gift. After exchanges took place 18 semi-structured interviews explored both giver and receiver perspectives on their experience of crafting or consuming a nostalgic digital layer. The transcripts were then thematically analysed to help uncover if a hybrid gift can facilitate a nostalgic experience through a digital layer. Following on from this study, a more tailored version of a nostalgic hybrid gift has been explored. This involved giving participants the agency to select a physical gift of their choice and enabled them to add optional videos or music to the digital layer. The aim of this study was to explore if the nostalgic experience of either giver or recipient is impacted by the type of physical gift selected. 


1.           Mauss, M. and E.E. Evans-Pritchard, The gift : forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies. 1967, New York: Norton.

2.           Lévi-Strauss, C., The principle of reciprocity. Sociological theory, 1965. 371.

3.           Sherry, J.F., Jr., Gift Giving in Anthropological Perspective. Journal of Consumer Research, 1983. 10(2): p. 157-168.

4.           Koleva, B., et al., Designing Hybrid Gifts. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact., 2020. 27(5): p. Article 37.

5.           Wildschut, T., et al., Nostalgia: Content, triggers, functions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2006. 91(5): p. 975-993.

6.           Routledge, C., et al., The power of the past: Nostalgia as a meaning-making resource. Memory (Hove, England), 2012. 20: p. 452-60.

7.           Merchant, A., et al., How Strong is the Pull of the Past? Measuring Personal Nostalgia Evoked by Advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 2013. 53: p. 150-165.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (UKRI Grant No. EP/S023305/1).