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Measuring 'Virtuous' Gratitude



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Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues
University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT United Kingdom
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Measuring Virtuous Gratitude
Blaire Morgan and Liz Gulliford
This is an unpublished conference paper for the 3rd Annual Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues conference at Oriel
College, Oxford University, Thursday 8th Saturday 10th January 2015.
These papers are works in progress and should not be cited without author’s prior permission.
Measuring Virtuous Gratitude
Blaire Morgan and Liz Gulliford, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham
1 Introduction
Within the framework of an Aristotelian approach to virtue ethics, virtues are virtuous insofar as
they are directed towards the right person, to the right degree, at the right time and for the right
purpose. Importantly, emotions are implicated in Aristotelian virtue at all levels of engagement, and
some virtues seem to constitute emotion responses (as traits rather than episodes) exclusively or at
least predominantly. Perhaps the most celebrated example is Aristotle’s take on justified anger (also
known as ‘mildness of temper’), both in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Rhetoric. An Aristotelian
approach can, by extension, be applied to virtues Aristotle did not himself take into account, or even
to virtues about which he was ambivalent (Kristjánsson, 2013, cf. Carr, 2015). Clearly, there are now
more virtues in the lexicon than were brought under Aristotle’s consideration in the Nicomachean
Ethics, and there is no reason to think that even Aristotle himself considered the list of virtues there
to be exhaustive.
The current paper applies the Aristotelian approach to virtue ethics to gratitude which, as is well
known, was not regarded as a virtue by Aristotle himself in the Nicomachean Ethics (although he
praised it as a positive personal quality in his Rhetoric).
Nonetheless, there is much to be gained
from this line of thinking. Gratitude has often been cast in an unambiguously good light and there is
a tendency, particularly apparent within the growing field of positive psychology, to classify
gratitude as an unfailingly positive emotion or positive trait, irrespective of any contextual
conditions. The same division of emotions and traits into the categories of positive and negative sees
anger, guilt and shame classified as negative, and gratitude, hope and forgiveness as positive. There
can be no doubt that were Aristotle alive today, he would take issue with the current propensity to
classify emotions, or relatively settled traits of character (hexeis), into crude categories of positive or
negative - to say nothing of the human experience of mixed emotions which seriously problematizes
any simple taxonomy! Carving up the affective life in such a simplistic way takes little or no account
of whether the emotion or disposition (the virtue) in question is appropriate in a given situation; for
example, to be grateful to the right person, for the right reasons and to a satisfactory degree.
Aristotelian scholars do not agree whether Aristotle‘s rejection of gratitude as an attribute of his fully
virtuous public benefactors, the megalopsychoi, in the Nicomachean Ethics, only applies to them (in view of
their specific public role) or to all fully virtuous agents.
In this paper we will suggest that current psychological thinking about gratitude would be enriched
by taking an Aristotelian perspective on board. Furthermore, we believe it is imperative that
interventions to promote gratitude, especially those involving young people, should incorporate the
crucial consideration of whether gratitude is fitting. To this end, we suggest that interventions to
promote gratitude should go beyond (unreflectively) counting blessings and begin to teach young
people something about the grammar of gratitude, and of the factors which might render the
indiscriminately grateful approach that goes hand-in-hand with ‘gratitude as positive’, problematic
(Morgan, Gulliford & Carr, in press).
We posit that a variety of factors function to ‘filter’ our understanding of the appropriateness of
gratitude. Moreover, we have conducted a number of empirical studies which show that laypeople
across a wide range of ages appear to use such filters when appraising whether they would and
should feel grateful as well as the degree of gratitude they would feel, in a range of imagined
scenarios (see Section 2). Thus we have empirical data that supports Aristotelian intuitions about a
given virtue’s appropriateness in a given situation; in this case the conceptual and moral condition
that we need to be grateful to the right person, for the right reason and to the right degree, for our
reaction to represent the virtue of gratitude rather than simply misplaced (excessive or deficient)
It may seem like a category mistake, to some philosophers, to present empirical data on lay people’s
understandings in order to illuminate conceptual points, for example about the proper application of
virtue concepts. We do believe, however, that Aristotelian naturalism, according to which all moral
theorising is in the end answerable to empirical evidence on what makes people flourish or flounder,
does justify the use of empirical data on lay conceptual understandings, of the sort that we present
below. By this we are not claiming that if, say, 80% of the general public believe that x is a condition
of the proper applicability of (virtue) concept C, then philosophers need to take this as the last word
on the nature of C. We believe, however, that it should be the first word. In other words, if
philosophers want to insist that x is not a conceptual condition of C, it becomes incumbent on them
to explain why the majority of the general public are wrong.
Conversely, if the philosophers agree with the majority of language speakers, they will render helpful
service to the language community by explaining why and how the 20% go wrong. It, then, also
becomes a crucial task for educators (say, in moral education classes at school) to teach children
why the minority view is unhelpful and may hinder the proper (moral and conceptual) understanding
and application of the notion in question. As noted above, we have argued (Morgan, Gulliford and
Carr, in press) that efforts at gratitude education have so far neglected this task, by failing to pay
attention to, and help children understand, the moral and conceptual grammar of gratitude as a
2 Empirical Research at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues
The Attitude for Gratitude project at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has been engaged
in research which aims to illuminate empirically, and within a broadly Aristotelian virtue ethical
framework, factors that influence gratitude. To this end, and to throw light on what British people
understand by the concept of gratitude, we have carried out a series of empirical studies that aimed
to complement the definitions of philosophers and psychologists with more everyday conceptions of
laypeople. Two specially designed methods have been implemented to examine the extent to which
laypeople deem gratitude appropriate in different circumstances; (1) a vignette questionnaire for
use with both adults and adolescents (aged 11 18 years), and (2) gratitude stories written for
children (aged 8 11 years). Both of these methods explore a range of different conceptual
controversies that surround gratitude (and have been highlighted in a recent critical review, see
Gulliford, Morgan & Kristjánsson, 2013). For example, how do benefactor’s intentions (be they
benevolent or malevolent) impact on gratitude experience? Must a benefit be valuable to the
beneficiary and must it actually materialise in order for gratitude to arise? Is (and should) gratitude
be reserved for someone who goes above and beyond what is expected out of duty (i.e., is
supererogatory)? Below we explain these two specifically designed methods and report on some
salient findings.
(1) Vignette Questionnaire:
The vignette questionnaire comprises two ‘high gratitude scenarios’ in this case being rescued
from a dangerous situation and two ‘low gratitude scenarios’ where gratitude should still be
present but at less intense levels (i.e., receiving a nomination for an award or being a beneficiary in a
Each scenario begins with a baseline question, before systematically manipulating the scenario to
examine different conceptual controversies (see Figure 1 and Appendix 1). For each conceptual
controversy we examined we asked three types of question; whether the participants would be
grateful if that scenario were to arise, how grateful they would be; and whether they should be
grateful. Order of the ‘should’ and ‘would’ questions was also counterbalanced. The adults’ version
of this questionnaire was presented online via SurveyGizmo and the adolescents’ version was
presented in hard copy.
You get into difficulties swimming in a lake. You cannot make it back to the shore and you are in real
danger. A person on the shore sees you struggling and dives in and rescues you.
You are grateful to this person for their help.
1=Strongly agree 2=Agree 3=Neither agree nor disagree 4=Disagree 5=Strongly disagree
Please indicate the degree of gratitude you feel on the scale below:
Not at all Most grateful
grateful you could feel
You should be grateful to this person for their help.
1=Strongly agree 2=Agree 3=Neither agree nor disagree 4=Disagree 5=Strongly disagree
Figure 1: Baseline questions from a high gratitude scenario
Adults: 810 adults accessed the questionnaire, of these 510 responses yielded usable data. 73.9% of
respondents were female; ages ranged from 18 65 years (mean age 28 years); 80% of respondents
were White British.
Adolescents: 273 students from a Secondary School in Cheshire completed a hard copy of the
Vignette Questionnaire; aged 11 17 years (mean age 14 years); 53.5% female; 94% White British.
(2) Gratitude Stories:
For children (aged 8 11) we utilised gratitude stories rather than a questionnaire. As far as
possible, we tried to replicate the same conceptual controversies in the children’s stories as tested in
the vignette questionnaire. For instance, the lake rescue scenario in the vignette questionnaire maps
closely onto The Blue Oasis story (see Appendix 2). ‘The Class Councillor’ and St Oscar’s Oscars’
follow similar themes to the two low gratitude scenarios in the questionnaire, manipulating, for
example, the presence of ulterior and malicious motives in benefit bestowal and the occurrence of
mixed emotions (i.e., experiencing negative emotions such as guilt or indebtedness alongside
gratitude). ‘Shooting Hoops’ offers several scenarios that manipulate issues of duty (or
At several junctures in the stories, participants answered questions in story workbooks about how
they thought the characters in the story would feel. The questions included both open-ended and
closed forms; some questions necessitated a Yes/No response, others followed a five-point Likert
scale gauging degree of gratitude. Within a one hour lesson, teachers read through the stories with
students, pausing at set junctures to answer the questions.
Participants: 270 primary school students, aged 8 11 years, completed one of the workbooks. The
6 schools involved were recruited from across the UK: West Midlands (N=90); Derbyshire (N=33);
and Scotland (N= 147).
3 Findings (Vignettes and Stories):
Results from our questionnaire and stories have shed light on the matter of being grateful to the
right person, for the right reasons and to the right degree. For instance, increased benefactor effort
increases reported gratitude and a benefactor’s ulterior motive decreases it, though to a lesser
extent than a malicious motive (Baseline DEGREE = 73.31%, SD =18.31; Ulterior DEGREE = 37.44%,
SD = 24.03; Malicious DEGREE = 27.10%, SD =23.95, see Graph 1). We have also shown that people
deem gratitude appropriate even when people are benefitted as a result of duty-fulfilling
obligations. In combined data from our high gratitude scenarios (a rescue from a lake or burning
building) just 1.5% of the amalgamated sample disagreed that they would be grateful to the
firefighter or lifeguard because it is their job. Similarly, 99% (N=86) of children who completed ‘The
Blue Oasis’ story workbook said they thought one of the characters would be grateful to a lifeguard
for rescuing her even though that is her job. Only one respondent indicated that the character would
not be grateful to the lifeguard because she was doing her duty.
Graph 1: Mean ARE and SHOULD Likert scores in each condition of the low gratitude scenarios in the vignette
Mean likert score (1 -5)
Mean responses across all conditions in the low
gratitude scenarios
The vignettes examined whether gratitude necessarily involves benefactors’ benign intentions. The
data showed that while malicious and ulterior motives undermine reported gratitude significantly,
they do not disqualify it. Only 18.18% of the sample indicated they would be grateful for a
nomination for an award at work or being named beneficiary in a will if the benefactor had the
ulterior motive of wanting help with their workload or stipulating conditions in the will. Moreover,
only 12.37% agreed they would be grateful for a benefit which was motivated by the malicious end
of harming their relationship with their relatives or deliberately embarrassing them.
We examined ulterior and malicious motives in the gratitude stories for children. Malicious
intentions were probed in a story where a shy boy’s name was put forward as class councillor to
ridicule him. 86% participants (N=81) believed the boy would not have been grateful to receive the
nomination. However, 8% believed he would have been either ‘really grateful’ or ‘quite grateful’ to
have been proposed. 29% children believed that a character who had been nominated for an award
with an ulterior motive of copying his answers in a spelling test would still be grateful for it.
However, 88% of the total sample (N=62) indicated that this boy would have been least grateful of
three people receiving a nomination in the story, suggesting that children reflected on the
appropriateness of gratitude towards the agent in different cases.
We explicitly assessed the presence of mixed emotions in ‘St Oscar’s Oscars’. Here, a child (Ethan)
feels obliged to nominate a classmate for an award because the classmate (Jordan) has nominated
him. However, Ethan would like to nominate someone else (Dominic). In response to the question
‘Do you think Ethan is grateful for the nomination he received from Jordan?’ 60% said ‘Yes’; 37%
answered ‘No’; and 3% amended the workbook themselves to give a ‘Yes and No’ response. In an
open response question, 40% of children referenced that Ethan would feel confused and 13%
believed he would experience awkwardness. Interestingly, 63% believed the boy should nominate
Dominic, whom he originally had in mind, while 21% suggested he now nominate Jordan instead.
This indicates that a fifth of the children had difficulty separating obligation from gratitude.
Relatedly, a mixed-design ANOVA conducted on the ARE data in the low gratitude scenarios of the
vignettes revealed that adults were significantly more likely to agree that gratitude is not an entirely
pleasant emotion compared with adolescents (p < .01). Our findings demonstrate that people across
the lifespan appreciate that gratitude is not entirely positive and can be mixed with other emotions.
Adults endorsed the view that gratitude is not an entirely pleasant emotion to a greater extent than
did adolescents (M=4.07 and M=3.73 respectively), suggesting that people may become more aware
of gratitude’s ‘shadow side’ with increasing age.
Furthermore, adults were significantly less grateful than adolescents to receive a benefit that was
not of real value to them (a nomination for an award at work they did not want, or inheriting a
collection of unwanted belongings in a will). Meanwhile 79% children indicated that they thought a
boy in one of the stories would be grateful for an ordinary birthday cake instead of the rocket cake
he was promised. Are young people more likely than adults to endorse the adage ‘it’s the thought
that counts?
Our research has shown that people across the lifespan nuance perceptions of gratitude along
broadly Aristotelian lines, weighing up whether gratitude is due to the right person, to the right
degree, at the right time and for the right purpose. However, children may need to learn about these
factors (e.g. ulterior motives, mixed feelings around indebtedness). Not all children aged 8-11
appear to understand how ulterior motives or mixed feelings impact on whether gratitude is
We believe that our gratitude stories have not only shed light on the way in which children aged 8
11 understand gratitude, but they can also be used as tools for teaching children about what we
have called elsewhere ‘the grammar of gratitude’ (Morgan et al., in press), enabling children to find
their way through the complexities that surround this concept, such as how feelings of indebtedness
and ulterior motives impact on gratitude experience. Indeed, we do not advocate the teaching of
gratitude without careful consideration of whether gratitude is due: it would be unhelpful and
potentially dangerous to ask students to feel indiscriminately grateful as emotional virtues can turn
into vices not only through under-reactions but also over-reactions. The vignette questionnaire
could be used to spark similar discussion in secondary schools and possibly even with adults. It is our
view that Aristotle’s ‘discriminating’ approach to virtue is a powerful corrective to current positive
psychological interventions.
The purpose of the vignette questionnaire and stories is to gain insight into respondents’
understanding of gratitude. The purpose is not to compare this with a ‘standard model’ from the
literature (i.e., assessing a ‘degree of match’), so much as to see (empirically) whether factors which
philosophers and psychologists hypothesize influence gratitude (such as greater benefactor effort)
do in fact influence the amount of gratitude people would report they would experience across a
range of circumstances.
The nomination for the award vignette in the low gratitude scenario has been particularly effective.
For example, it clearly demonstrates that non-benevolent intentions (malicious intent or ulterior
motives) do not disqualify gratitude (as some might think). Thus the view that gratitude must involve
benevolent intention on the part of the benefactor is not a necessary condition of gratitude. We
believe that this conceptual analysis offers a comprehensive (and much needed) profile of
laypeople’s understanding of gratitude which should be borne in mind when examining or
measuring gratitude.
4 The Multi-Component Gratitude Measure
Picking up the Aristotelian framework again, we view virtues in general, and gratitude in particular,
as encompassing various components. In addition to a cognitive element (offered by the
aforementioned vignettes), virtues also consist of an emotional component, an attitudinal
component and a behavioural component. Unless all of these dimensions are addressed, only a
partial view of the virtue in question can be obtained.
In this connection, our own research has highlighted how all of these different components do need
to be addressed as they may not always be in line with one another. For example, our ‘Valuable
Values Questionnaire’ which examined each of these distinct gratitude elements revealed how
attitudes to gratitude (such as evaluations of its importance) do not necessarily map on to gratitude
behaviours (see Arthur, Kristjánsson, Gulliford & Morgan, forthcoming). The discrepancy between
these different elements, or components, of gratitude has significant implications for measuring the
construct and establishing correlates of gratitude such as subjective well-being and prosocial
behaviours (Bartlett & de Steno, 2006; Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
There are currently two measures of gratitude and one measure of appreciation established in the
literature; the GQ6 (McCullough, Emmons & Tsang, 2002); the GRAT (Watkins, Woodward, Stone &
Kolts, 2003) and the Appreciation Scale (Adler & Fagley, 2005). However, we see a major problem
with these current measures which we now briefly highlight. The most well-established measure of
gratitude is the GQ6 which consists of 6 short Likert-scale items. The problem with this measure,
however, is that all 6 items tap only one component of gratitude, namely, grateful feeling. Similarly,
the GRAT has a limited scope; whilst tapping into more dimensions than the GQ6 (with items also
evaluating a sense of abundance - or lack thereof - and supportive dispositions) there are
components of gratitude that remain unexamined. Neither of these measures, nor the Appreciation
Scale, offer a measure of conceptual understanding of gratitude or simultaneously tap into
cognitions, emotions, attitudes and behaviours pertaining to gratitude. Thus, in our view, none of
these scales offer a comprehensive measure of gratitude, at least if we see it as a complex trait of
character (hexis) on a quasi-Aristotelian understanding.
In contrast, our aim has been to develop a Multi-Component measure of gratitude that explores the
various facets that make up this interesting and complex construct. To this end, we have created a
measure that consists of four distinct components designed to measure four different dimensions of
gratitude; the Multi-Component Gratitude Measure (MCGM)
(A) The Conceptual Component: This component of the measure examines an individual’s conceptual
understanding of gratitude and gauges whether the person has a ‘broad’ or ‘narrow’ view of the
meaning and scope of gratitude. To examine conceptual understanding, we employed a scenario
from the vignette questionnaire (a nomination for an award). The person’s view on the scope of
gratitude may, for example, be limited to when benefactors act benevolently, or may be broader,
encompassing situations where there is even an ulterior motive. The ARE (5-point Likert scale)
and DEGREE (0-100 slider) questions were taken from the vignette questionnaire.
(B) The Emotion Component: Items in this component assess individuals’ degree of grateful feeling,
for example, ‘I feel appreciative of the support of many people in my life's journey’; ‘There are so
many people that I feel grateful for’. 6 items assess grateful feeling. All items from components B
D are answered using a 7-point Likert scale (1 = Strongly disagree to 7 = Strongly agree).
(C) The Attitude Component: This component examines attitudes of gratitude and evaluations of its
importance. For example, ‘I don't think it is necessary to show your gratitude to others’; ‘I make it
a priority to thank others’. This stage comprises 10 items.
(D) The Behaviour Component: Items here measure the amount of gratitude-related behaviours that
respondents engage in. Examples include, ‘I notice the people who are kind to me’; ‘I remind
myself of the benefits I have received’. This stage contains 13 items.
Note that while we do not make any judgements about whether respondents have the ‘right’
understanding of gratitude in section A, the measure allows us to offer a ‘profile’ of their
understanding of gratitude. However, this is separate from the score they obtain across components
B, C and D. A person would not need to understand the concept of gratitude to be a grateful person.
Someone could, for instance, believe that gratitude is not warranted when a benefit fails to
materialise yet have a high score across B, C and D. Given that most people are almost as grateful for
benefits that fail to materialise as they are for a realised benefit, we could say that this person had
an ‘atypical’ conceptual grasp of gratitude. However, this does not rule them out of experiencing
grateful feelings, or engaging in an array of gratitude-related rituals. Notably, the score in B, C and D
can be aggregated, for relevant purposes, but the measure also allows us to explore correlations
between each component separately and any other relevant variables.
The description of the MCGM has been taken from the Attitude for Gratitude Research Report (Arthur et al.,
We have tested the MCGM as an alternative to the GQ6, GRAT and Appreciation scales; the aim
being to demonstrate its validity and reliability and to examine what kinds of people tend to be
Pilot of the MCGM:
Participants: 532 participants accessed the online survey; complete usable responses totalled 477.
68% of respondents were female; ages ranged from 18 88 (mean age 38 years); 85% of
respondents were White British; 42% Christian; 37% Atheist. Of those who identified with a religion
37% practised their religion.
After piloting a pool of emotion, attitude and behaviour items with 477 participants, we performed a
principles components analysis (or PCA) to explore what aspects of gratitude our measure taps
. The
6 factors that emerged from this analysis were: (1) Feelings of gratitude; (2) Attitudes to
Appropriateness (of gratitude); (3) Behavioural shortcomings; (4) Rituals/Noticing benefits; (5)
Expressions of gratitude; (6) Attitudes to Gratitude (see Table 1 for example items).
We were left with 29 items (6 emotion items; 10 attitude items; and 13 behaviour items), and an
additional 14 items from the vignette questionnaire to assess conceptual understanding. The
reliability of each subscale of the MCGM (i.e, each of the 6 factors) was assessed using Cronbach’s α
(see Table 1). The overall reliability of the MCGM (i.e., all 6 factors combined, excluding the
conceptual stage) is .89 which is an acceptable value of scale reliability.
Table 1: The reliability of the MCGM; correlations with existing gratitude/appreciation scales and example
items ((E) refers to an emotion item; (A) attitude item; and (B) behaviour item; ** = p < .01).
Oblimin rotation ran with eigenvalues over 1 and suppression of coefficients smaller than .50.
Reliability of
(Cronbachs α)
No. of
with GQ6
with GRAT
Correlation with
Example Item
There are so many people that I feel
grateful towards (E)
Gratitude should be reserved for when
someone intends to benefit you (A)
I overlook how much I have to be
grateful for (B)
I stop to recognize all the good things I
have in my life (B)
I make it a priority to thank others (B)
I don't think it is necessary to show your
gratitude to others (A)
Validity test of the MCGM:
Participants: 1817 participants accessed the second online survey, of which 1599 responses could be
analysed. 52% of respondents were female; ages ranged from 18 83 years (mean age 51 years).
93% of respondents were White-British; 56% Christian; 23% Atheist. Of those who identified with a
religion 21% practised their religion. 23% of the sample was Single; 67% Married; 58% had
dependants, 41% did not.
Following the pilot of the MCGM, we aimed to (1) examine the incremental validity of our measure
(that is, whether it could demonstrate any effects above and beyond the ability of the GQ6, GRAT
and Appreciation Scale combined); and (2) examine what kinds of people tend to be grateful.
(1) Examining the incremental validity of the MCGM
To test the incremental validity of our measure, we conducted a hierarchical multiple regression on
three outcome variables that measure well-being; Satisfaction with Life (SWL, Diener, Suh, Lucas &
Smith, 1999), Subjective Happiness (SH, Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1997), and the positive affect
component of the PANAS scale (Watson, Clark & Tellegen, 1988). When examining each of the
outcome variables, the regression consisted of three steps.
Step 1: We first entered the Big Five domains of personality (Agreeableness, Conscientiousness,
Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness) which previous research has demonstrated accounts for a
large amount of variance in such measures of well-being (McCullough et al., 2002; Wood, Joseph &
Maltby, 2008).
Step 2: The second step involved entering the three existing measures of gratitude/appreciation into
the regression (i.e., the GQ6, the GRAT, and the Appreciation Scale).
Step 3: The final step involved entering the four components of our MCGM. This process allowed us
to examine whether the MCGM can account for (variance in) the three outcome measures above
and beyond what the GQ6, GRAT and Appreciation scale (combined) are capable of measuring; that
is, can our own measure of gratitude add anything new that is not already covered by existing
(1) Predicting Satisfaction with Life (SWL); Subjective Happiness (SH); and Positive Affect in the
When entering a composite score for Conceptual ARE items from the MCGM, Conceptual DEGREE
items, the Emotion component, the Attitude component, and the Behaviour component, the MCGM
accounted for an additional 2.2% of the variance in SWL above the Big Five and existing
gratitude/appreciation measures (p < .001); an additional 1.6% of variance in SH above the Big Five
and existing measures (p < .001); and an additional 1.3% of variance in the PANAS above the Big Five
and existing measures (p < .001).
In explanation, the MCGM predicts variance in all three outcome measures examined here that
cannot be explained by the three existing measures of gratitude/appreciation combined. Simply put,
our measure is offering something new, rather than merely replicating the effects of the GQ6,
GRAT or Appreciation Scale.
(2) What kinds of people tend to be grateful?
A multivariate analysis of variance (or MANOVA) was used to examine whether there are any
differences between participant groups across the various dependent variables measured in the
study. The participant groups examined were gender (Male; Female), age-group (18-30 years; 31-40;
41-50; 51-60; 61-70; and > 70 years), Religion (Christians; Atheists
), the practice of religion
(individuals who do practise their religion regularly and those that do not), relationship status
(Single; Married), and participants who have dependants and those that do not. The dependent
variables included all four components of the MCGM (conceptual, emotional, attitudinal, and
behavioural); the three existing gratitude/appreciation scales (GQ6, GRAT and Appreciation Scale);
and the three well-being variables (SH, SWL, PANAS)
Gender: Females scored significantly higher in self-reported ratings of gratitude. In explanation,
females rated themselves more highly on the emotion (p < .05), attitude (p < .001) and behaviour
components (p < .001) of the MCGM, and on the GQ6 (p < .01), GRAT (p < .01) and Appreciation
scales (p < .01).
Age: When examining differences across age groups, we see that over 70 year olds scored
significantly higher on the Appreciation Scale compared to all other age groups (18 -30 years, p < .05;
31-40 years, p < .001; 41-50 years, p <.001; 51-60 years, p <.001, and 61-70 years, < .05). However,
there were no age-related differences in any other dependent variable tested.
51.6% of our sample are Christians; 23.4% Atheists; combined they account for 75% of our sample. Thus these two groups
were compared to examine the effect of religion.
The three well-being variables were included as outcome variables in the incremental validity test and as dependent
variables in the MANOVA; this is because we view gratitude as enhancing well-being and well-being as enhancing
gratitude, see Watkins (2004), p. 185.
Christianity/Atheism: Compared to self-professed atheists, individuals who identify themselves as
Christian report significantly higher ratings of gratitude/appreciation on the emotion stage of the
MCGM (p < .001); the GQ6 (p < .01); the GRAT scale (p < .05) and the Appreciation Scale (p < .01).
Interestingly, there was no significant difference between these two groups in terms of attitudes and
behaviours relating to gratitude (as measured by the attitude and behaviour stages of the MCGM).
However, Christians also reported higher levels of satisfaction with life and subjective happiness
than their atheist counterparts.
Single/married and dependants Yes/No: There were no differences between these participant
groups across any of the dependent variables.
Practice of religion: We were also interested to see if there would be any differences between those
who practise their religion and those that do not. Our findings indicated that those who practise
their religion report higher levels of gratitude in the emotion and behaviour components of the
MCGM (p < .01 and p < .05 respectively); and all three existing gratitude/appreciation measures
(GQ6: p <.01; GRAT: p < .05; Appreciation Scale: p < .05). This group of individuals also score higher
than their non-practising counterparts in terms of satisfaction with life and positive affect (p < .05
and p <.01 respectively).
5 Conclusion
Our research has shown that people across the lifespan nuance perceptions of gratitude along
broadly Aristotelian lines gratitude is due to the right person, to the right degree, at the right time
and for the right purpose (though there may be some age differences in conceptions and
experiences of gratitude). Aristotle’s ‘discriminating’ approach is a powerful corrective to current
positive psychological interventions. We need to be asking whether the emotions or dispositions
(virtues) are appropriate in given situations.
Furthermore, the conception of virtue as being made up of multiple components is a valuable and
helpful notion when describing and measuring gratitude. Our own research has indicated that there
are discrepancies between understandings, emotions, attitudes and behaviours of gratitude. For
example, when comparing Christians and atheists, we observe differences in grateful feelings
between these two groups but no differences in attitudes to gratitude or grateful behaviours. This
finding would not be observable without an instrument that separately taps into each of these
gratitude components; fortunately, this opportunity is now available through the application of our
Multi-Component Gratitude Measure (MCGM).
Furthermore, the MCGM has been shown to be psychometrically robust (Cronbach α = .89) and
offers a more nuanced way of tapping different aspects of gratitude, in line with the Aristotelian
view of virtue consisting of cognitions, emotions, attitudes and behaviours. We therefore
recommend the use of the MCGM in future explorations of gratitude. This is the first measure to
incorporate a conceptual component alongside three other dimensions of gratitude (emotional,
attitudinal and behavioural).
To conclude, this paper sheds light on the question of what it means to manifest virtuous gratitude
and demonstrates the value of bringing philosophy into dialogue with psychology in order to create
better measures based on a rigorous conceptual analysis, with input from the ‘many’ as well as from
the ‘wise’.
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Appendix 1: List of manipulations across the high and low gratitude scenarios. Examples are shown for a rescue
from a lake (high gratitude condition) and a nomination for an award (low gratitude scenario)
High gratitude scenarios
(Rescue from lake/fire)
Low gratitude scenarios
(Nomination for award/beneficiary of will)
You get into difficulties swimming in a lake. You
cannot make it back to the shore and you are in
real danger. A person on the shore sees you
struggling and dives in and rescues you.
You are grateful to this person for their help
(1=Strongly agree 5=Strongly disagree)
Please indicate the degree of gratitude you feel:
(Not at all grateful Most grateful you could feel)
You should be grateful to this person for their help
(1=Strongly agree 5=Strongly disagree)
A colleague nominates you for an award at work. If you win,
you will receive recognition of your hard work and a voucher.
Cost (or Risk) to benefactor
You get into difficulties swimming in a lake… A
person on the shore sees you struggling and dives
and rescues you. You know that she is risking her
own life by doing so as she is not a very good
You are/should be more grateful to this person
than the lifeguard as there is a bigger risk
You are/should be more grateful to this person
than the lifeguard as it was not her job to help
Ulterior Motive
A colleague nominates you for an award at work. If you win,
you will receive recognition of your hard work and a voucher.
The colleague has nominated you because she wants you to
repay the favour by helping her with her own workload.
Cost to benefactor
A colleague nominates you for an award… The colleague had
to spend a long time filling in the nomination form outside of
You get into difficulties swimming in a lake…. A
lifeguard is on duty and jumps in and saves you.
Non-realised benefit
A colleague nominates you for an award at work... In the end
you do not win the award.
Non-realised benefit
You get into difficulties swimming in a lake. A
person on the shore sees you struggling and dives
in to rescue you. However, she struggles herself
and has to give up. In the end a lifeguard rescues
both of you.
Malicious intent
A colleague nominates you for an award at work…. You do not
get on with this colleague and you know that she only
nominated you because she knew it would embarrass you.
Value of benefit
A colleague nominates you for an award…You do not want to
win this award and would rather that you had not been
Mixed emotions
A colleague nominates you for an award at work… You feel
thankful that your colleague nominated you but you also feel
uncomfortable now that you are indebted to her.
Appendix 2: Excerpt from ‘Blue Oasis’, one of the four gratitude stories designed to explore children’s
understandings of gratitude.
It was too late. No one seemed to have noticed Laura’s plunge into the deep end. They didn’t know
whether Laura could swim but Mrs Enright said they should find a lifeguard and raise the alarm in any
Laura had not done as she was told. She knew that they had been instructed to stay with the adults in the
pool for safety reasons but it had been her birthday the weekend before and no one had thrown a pool
party for her. Probably, she thought, no one would even care if she went off on her own. She took her
chance to slip away when Ben’s mum and her own mother were momentarily distracted by Laura’s two
year old sister.
The jump itself had been thrilling but now Laura was in trouble; she just couldn’t get her breath and the
waves kept coming. No one seemed to notice her struggling.
‘Help!’ she cried before the next wave rolled in.
Just at that moment a young man on the poolside caught sight of Laura’s flailing arm. He wasted no time
in jumping in to rescue her. Mrs Enright saw him going after Laura and noticed that he wasn’t a
particularly strong swimmer. Just as she alerted the lifeguard to what had happened she saw Laura
frantically grabbing the would-be rescuer and pulling him down into the water. He was in trouble now
The lifeguard dived in and swam towards the pair. She separated the man from Laura’s desperate clasp
and towed Laura towards the edge of the pool. The young man, probably just a teenager, retrieved a float
that had been tossed to him from the poolside and began to kick towards the poolside. Just as they all
reached the rail, the wave machine stopped. Someone had thrown the switch. It had all happened so
Let’s pause for some more questions…
Do you think Laura should be grateful to the lifeguard for getting her out of difficulties even though it is her job
to do that?
Why do you say that?
Why do you think the lifeguard said she was ‘just doing her job?’
Do you think you would be more grateful to the man who tried to save you or to the lifeguard who saved you?
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