A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 3620 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6370, USA.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Impact Factor: 5.08). 06/2010; 98(6):946-55. DOI: 10.1037/a0017935
Source: PubMed


Although research has established that receiving expressions of gratitude increases prosocial behavior, little is known about the psychological mechanisms that mediate this effect. We propose that gratitude expressions can enhance prosocial behavior through both agentic and communal mechanisms, such that when helpers are thanked for their efforts, they experience stronger feelings of self-efficacy and social worth, which motivate them to engage in prosocial behavior. In Experiments 1 and 2, receiving a brief written expression of gratitude motivated helpers to assist both the beneficiary who expressed gratitude and a different beneficiary. These effects of gratitude expressions were mediated by perceptions of social worth and not by self-efficacy or affect. In Experiment 3, we constructively replicated these effects in a field experiment: A manager's gratitude expression increased the number of calls made by university fundraisers, which was mediated by social worth but not self-efficacy. In Experiment 4, a different measure of social worth mediated the effects of an interpersonal gratitude expression. Our results support the communal perspective rather than the agentic perspective: Gratitude expressions increase prosocial behavior by enabling individuals to feel socially valued.

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Available from: Francesca Gino, Feb 09, 2015
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    • "Desire for competence on the job, for example, can be crowded out as an external reward shifts a behavior from signaling competence to signaling reward responsiveness (Gneezy and Rustichini 2000a; Deci and Ryan 2002). Later research has focused on the mechanism of image (Ariely et al. 2009; Benabou and Tirole 2006; Grant and Mayer 2009; Lacetera and Macis 2010), where an external reward such as an award can shift the external perception of a worker's motives for prosocial behavior from " a desire to be a 'good' employee " to " a desire to win the social recognition of an award. " "
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    ABSTRACT: This paper uses data from an attendance award program implemented at one of five industrial laundry plants to show the complex costs of corporate awards previously ignored in the literature. We show that although the attendance award had direct, positive effects on employees who had previously had punctuality problems, it also led to strategic gaming behavior centered on the specific eligibility criteria for the award. The award program temporary changed behavior in award-eligible workers, but did not habituate improved attendance. Furthermore, we show that the extrinsic reward from the award program crowded out the internal motivation of those employees who had previously demonstrated excellent attendance, generating worse punctuality during periods of ineligibility. Most novelly, we show that the attendance award program also crowded out internal motivation and performance in tasks not included in the award program. Workers with above average pre-program attendance lost 8% efficiency in daily laundry tasks after the program’s introduction. We argue that these motivation spillovers result from the inequity of internally-motivated workers’ previously unrewarded superior attendance contributions. Our paper suggests that even purely symbolic awards can generate gaming and crowding out costs that may spill over to other important tasks.
    SSRN Electronic Journal 07/2015; DOI:10.2139/ssrn.2215922
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    • "Thanking other people through words or actions concerns the social expression of gratitude. Expressing gratitude motivates benefactors to engage in further prosocial behaviour (Grant and Gino 2010), increasing the likelihood of future benevolence and, hence, future gratitude by the recipient. Expressing gratitude enhances the perceived communal strength of relationships (Lambert et al. 2010) and enhances marital satisfaction (Gordon et al. 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Growing evidence is linking gratitude with well-being, yet insufficient scholarly attention has been given to how it is defined, understood and measured. To address this issue, gratitude and gratefulness can be usefully distinguished as two types of appreciative functioning. Applying complex dynamic systems theory, appreciative functioning is conceptualised as a pattern of cognition and behaviour that involves the interaction of awareness, comprehension, emotions, goals, and relationships. The aim of the current work was to explore this system of appreciative functioning in greater detail. Methods A deductive thematic analysis of relevant literature was performed in Study 1 to identify psychological and social components of appreciative functioning within an empirically-based systems framework. Study 2 used a content analysis methodology to quantify the extent to which the components identified in Study 1 are covered by existing scales that assess gratitude and gratefulness. Results Study 1 identified 32 theoretical components within five overarching domains that comprise the system of appreciative functioning. Gratefulness and gratitude were found to involve many components, with some shared in common. Study 2 found that existing instruments do not cover the full set of components. Moreover, results indicated that existing scales confound gratitude and gratefulness, and thus they cannot determine the extent to which each construct uniquely relates to well-being outcomes. Conclusions This work supports the view that gratefulness and gratitude are distinct, yet related, multi-component constructs within a complex system of appreciative functioning. Together, these studies provide theoretical groundwork for the construction of multidimensional measurement instruments to extend research into the underlying mechanisms through which appreciative functioning influences well-being.
    07/2015; 5(1):1-20. DOI:10.1186/s13612-015-0028-9
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    • "Gratitude is elicited when a benefactor performs a generous act for the self (Grant & Gino, 2010). Feeling grateful has been empirically linked to a desire to reciprocate toward a generous benefactor (Bartlett, Condon, Cruz, Baumann, & Desteno, 2012; McCullough, Kimeldorf, & Cohen, 2008). "
    The Journal of Positive Psychology 01/2015; · 1.67 Impact Factor
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