Gratitude Dissertation Fellows
In 2013, we put out a call for proposals for the most innovative dissertation research projects on gratitude, with emphasis on research spanning two or more disciplines. After receiving an impressive range of proposals, we awarded 15 one-year grants of $10,000 to support research on workplace gratitude, the role of gratitude among couples coping with breast cancer, and the neuropharmacological basis of gratitude, among other topics.
We are proud to present our 15 Gratitude Dissertation Research Awardees—promising scholars from the fields of psychology, sociology, social welfare, and business.
Rodolfo Cortes BarraganStanford University
Rodolfo Cortes Barrigan’s study looks at the innateness of gratitude. Are humans intrinsically helpful and generous? Do they show a predisposition or inclination to maximize each other’s welfare? Rather than concluding that humans are intrinsically “good,” “evil,” or neither, Cortes Barrigan proposes that such beliefs play a causal role in producing the relevant behaviors. For example, believing that humans are good and moral may induce actual morality. If this is true – how can we foster these types of beliefs? Cortes Barrigan will test whether specific experiences can lead children to infer that the norm in the social world is to engage benevolently. For example, children will be asked to to convince an audience that children at their school truly care about each other’s wellbeing. Promoting the view that “care is the norm” in the school environment is expected to increase pro-sociality because children will internalized the message and ensure its reality by behaving in line with its standards. As part of this process, Cortes Barrigan predicts that children will show greater trust, fairness and gratitude, greater interest in interracial interactions, and greater investment in harmony between groups. Thus, we will test whether reciprocity 1) builds the expectation and endorsement of benevolence toward others and 2) fosters the intergenerational transmission of knowledge, which children may give others as a sign of gratitude for past positive interactions.
Boram DoBoston College
Boram’s research explores what gratitude is at work, what leads to it, and what results from it. Her studies investigate how employees experience gratitude for their occupations, work relationships (e.g., colleagues and supervisors), and organizations; how employees’ personal characteristics and their organizations’ contextual characteristics relate to gratitude; and how gratitude impacts workplace behaviors and performance (e.g. commitment, cooperative behavior, and prosocial behavior). She will conduct interviews to gather in-depth understanding of employees’ everyday experiences of gratitude at work and use this data to formulate a scale to measure gratitude at work. Then, she will administer the scale to a much larger population to characterize the nature of workplace gratitude, and explore how it relates to other qualities and characteristics. Boram work fits into the growing field of “positive organization studies,” which adds promotion of positive experiences in workplaces to the research literature on management, which typically focuses on how to prevent negative, adversarial, and disappointing experiences.
Patrick DwyerUniversity of Minnesota
Have you ever used the expression “Thank you in advance”? Or, better yet, have you ever been on the receiving end of this expression? Did it make you feel valued or did it make you feel taken advantage of? Did you actually end up performing the action for which you were thanked? Have you ever encountered a public notice thanking you for complying with a policy while at the same time informing you of its demands (e.g., “Thank you for not smoking”, “Thank you for speaking quietly”)? How did you feel? How do you think it affected your actions? People often use expressions of gratitude in order to obtain benefits from others. Patrick Dwyer’s research is aimed at understanding when and why gratitude expressions do and do not lead to compliance from others. The above examples of gratitude “before-the-fact” (i.e., Thanks in advance for…) are, perhaps, the most obvious examples of the phenomenon of gratitude as persuasion, because they pair an expression of gratitude with a persuasive request (i.e., to do whatever it is for which one is being thanked). However, gratitude “after-the-fact”, as when one thanks someone for performing a past act, can also be used to promote future self-benefits. Dwyer’s
Studies examine the persuasive influences of gratitude expressions, both before- and after-the-fact.
Glenn R. FoxUniversity of Southern California
Glenn’s research examines what happens in the brain when people feel grateful. His study will present participants with video segments from the Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive, a collection of over 50,000 videotaped testimonials from survivors of the Holocaust. He will record brain activity using a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner while research participants view scenes of survivors receiving gifts. Participants will be instructed to put themselves into the shoes of the survivor, to imagine the survivor’s perspective and to feel the survivor’s feelings. Glenn’s preliminary data suggest that gifts capable of producing near unspeakable gratitude—for example, being given shelter and sustenance when there is great personal risk to the giver for doing so—elicit activity in brain regions associated with social bonding and joy. His continued data collection and analysis will strengthen this observation, providing a neuroscience account of good human conduct driven by gratitude.
Amie GordonUniversity of California, Berkeley
For her project, Amie will conduct conceptual and empirical examinations of factors that influence gratitude in response to receiving a benefit from another person. She will (1) draw upon existing work to uncover thoughts and judgments that give rise to feelings of gratitude towards others, and (2) consider the situational and dispositional factors that can thwart gratitude, focusing on the role of social power. Social power, widely defined as having control over the outcomes of others and being the decision-maker in relationships, has widespread influence on our perceptions of the world and how people interact. Power is characterized by heightened independence and self-reliance. People who have less power, on the other hand, feel more dependent on others. Amie’s research will examine why people with higher power might feel less grateful. She anticipates that powerful people, in their attempt to remain independent and self-reliant, will be less likely to notice and acknowledge the role that others play in helping them succeed, while less powerful people who are dependent on others, and thus more focused on how other people influence their outcomes, will be more likely to notice and acknowledge the ways in which other people help them out.
Jennifer HamesFlorida Sate University
Jennifer’s project aims to test the efficacy of a simple, cost-effective, self-administered, and easy to disseminate gratitude intervention among individuals vulnerable to suicide and depression. From approximately 3,000 individuals screened for vulnerability to suicide and depression, 201 at-risk individuals will be recruited to participate in the study. Participants will be randomly assigned to a 2-week daily gratitude intervention, a two-week daily prioritizing intervention, or no intervention. To determine whether the gratitude intervention has immediate and long-term effects (compared to the prioritizing and no intervention conditions), all participants will be asked to complete measures and health and well-being prior to the intervention and immediately following the two-week intervention period, as well as one and two months post-intervention. Jennifer’s study has the potential to show that gratitude interventions can bolster psychological resilience to and prevent future onset of symptoms of suicidality and depression among individuals at risk for these conditions based on their psychological history.
Lianna HartmourUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Current research on gratitude in transplantation has shown that a sense of gratitude can be a psychological benefit as well as a burden, depending on the context. Lianna Hartmour’s project examines how the experience of expressing or receiving gratitude affects the experience of donation and the relationship consequences for sibling bone marrow donor and recipient dyads. Lianna Hartmour will conduct three interviews with research participants. The first will be held at the transplantation or donation clearance, which people undergo separately about a week before their procedure. The next interview will take place within the month after their donation or transplantation procedure. The last will be conducted six months after their donation or transplantation procedure. Each interview will be done individually with each person to ensure their descriptions of their experience are not influenced by the presence others. Hartmour will compare donor and recipients interview data that describes expressing or receiving gratitude, assess how experiences of gratitude change over time, and examine how relationships are affected by the donation/transplantation experience.
Tristen InagakiUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Tristen’s study will examine the effects of pleasure on gratitude. Research participants will be asked to 1) take a drug (naltrexone) that blocks opioids, natural substances in the body associated with pleasure, or sugar pills (placebo); 2) come to the lab while on the study drugs to complete a gratitude task; and 3) complete daily reports on their feelings of gratitude and pro-social behavior. For the gratitude task, researchers will contact several close friends and family members to gather positive messages (example from prior study: “I’ve never met anyone as kind and charming as you”), as well as neutral messages or facts (e.g., “You have dark hair.”), and present these to the participants who will rate how grateful, positive, connected, and pleasant the messages made them feel. Participants will have the opportunity thank their friends and family for the messages, and the content of these thanks will be analyzed. Finally, participants will be asked to keep a daily diary of their general feelings of gratitude, relationship quality and satisfaction, and prosocial behaviors (e.g., “Today, I did something thoughtful for someone else, I helped a close friend with a problem”), and any specific gratitude-related events that may have occurred during the day. Tristen hypothesizes that the opioid blocker naltrexone will reduce feelings of gratitude in the lab, lead to less appreciative thanks to friends and family, and lead less gratitude, relationship satisfaction, and prosocial behavior towards others in daily life.
Minah JungUniversity of California, Berkeley
Minah’s research looks at the role of gratitude in pay-what-you-want pricing. What if payments were all gifts? What happens when people have an option to pay for someone else (and are told that someone has already paid for them). Such pay-it-forward pricing invokes a very different set of social norms than what typically drives commercial market behavior—the norms of gratitude. Pilot experiments have confirmed that pay-it-forward pricing can substantially influence human behavior. For example, in one investigation, she manipulated prices at popular museum. When people could simply “pay what you want,” people paid about $1.89 per person. Some people instead received a “pay-it-forward’ instruction, and told that a previous patron had covered their payment, and that they could pay for someone who would come later. Under such an economically identical circumstance people paid almost twice as much, $3.12. What is it about pay-it-forward that prompts such generosity? Minah’s research aims to answer this question.
Evan KleimanGeorge Mason University
Evan Kleiman’s project examines the potential for gratitude to play a role in suicide prevention. Building on initial findings that individuals who are hopeless or depressed (and thus at risk for suicide) are less likely to actually be suicidal if they also experience gratitude, this study asks why and under what conditions does gratitude confer resiliency to suicide. It may be that gratitude not only directly affects suicide risk (that is, grateful people are less likely to be suicidal) but also indirectly leads to other suicide resiliency factors. Grateful individuals may perceive more social support from others, have higher self-esteem, and experience and appreciate more positive events. Kleiman’s study will examine if gratitude reduces risk for suicide by these routes. Additionally, several psychological strengths (like grit and optimism) will be explored as possible ways to “supercharge” gratitude. Two hundred participants at risk for suicide will be followed over several months to examine these hypotheses and others with the ultimate goal of creating a scientifically sound intervention for people at risk for attempting suicide based on the science of gratitude.
Hyunjung LeeUniversity of Texas at Austin
A challenge faced by marketers and public policy makers is that consumers ask for products that afford environmental benefits and charitable considerations, yet when these products are offered in the marketplace, sales often lag behind traditional products. As one way to address this problem, Hynjung Lee’s research investigates the effect of gratitude on a consumer’s decision to engage in environmentally conscious, charitable consumption behavior. Specifically, she aims to document the relationship between gratitude and consumer response to cause-marketing, and 2) to establish a novel approach to studying gratitude by examining 2 different ways that people think about gratitude: what they’re thankful for having (good friends), and what they’re thankful for not having (a stalker). Lee’s studies will investigate how gratitude affects consumers’ decision between products that benefit the self versus others, and examine the distinction between 2 types of gratitude and their effects on consumers’ attitudes toward cause-marketing campaigns. He preliminary work suggests that, when considering others who do not share the same fortune, people feel more empathy when they also feel ‘grateful for not having something’ rather than when they also feel ‘grateful for having’ something. Based on these results, Hyunjung Lee aims to demonstrate how gratitude can affect consumers’ desire to benefit different types of beneficiaries.
Lisa MayUniversity of Oregon
People who live with chronic pain often report that cultivating gratitude helps them deal with pain. Relatedly, studies have shown that either pleasure/perceived value or motivation can cause pain relief; gratitude incorporates both pleasure/perceived value and motivation! Lisa May’s research asks whether the state of gratitude can cause pain relief - can just thinking gratefully for a short period of time actually reduce pain levels? Further, May’s studies ask whether the trait of gratitude, being a more grateful person, is associated with pain relief. Are people who are generally more grateful able to get more pain relief from a gratitude journaling task, or from meditation? May’s studies will compare people’s normal (“baseline”) pain levels to their pain levels while they’re journaling on gratitude and also when they’re meditating. If just thinking gratefully for a short period of time really does reduce pain, then people should feel less pain in the gratitude condition than at baseline. And, if people who are generally more grateful experience less pain, then people who score high on a gratitude trait questionnaire should feel less pain than people who score low on a gratitude trait questionnaire. Finally, May will test the possibility that the pleasure/perceived value aspect of gratitude causes pain relief by giving people an opioid antagonist drug called Naloxone. If Naloxone makes people’s pain relief in the gratitude condition go away, or if it makes the differences in perceived pain between people with high and low trait gratitude go away, that will support the idea that gratitude causes pain relief by activating opioid receptors. Learning more about how gratitude effects pain relief and the neural mechanisms involved could help improve the way chronic pain is treated.
Mindy SteinbergUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Mindy’s project explores how feelings of gratitude relate to familism (a commitment to the family through assistance, chores, respect for elders, and maintenance of emotional and ethnic ties) in teens from Mexican-origin families in Los Angeles, CA. She will use qualitative and quantitative methods to explore teens’ feelings and experiences of gratitude in their everyday lives, in addition to factors that promote or inhibit continued gratitude across adolescence. She hypothesizes that gratitude drives the positive outcomes and improvements to well-being that have been associated with familism, and that gratitude protects against negative outcomes (e.g., inhibiting teens from extending their horizons, rebellion against families seen as too restrictive) that have also been associated with familism.
Elana SzczesnyUniversity of Delaware
The effects of partner-specific gratitude (i.e., feeling grateful towards one’s partner) have not been investigated in the context of couples coping with significant life adversity, such as Breast Cancer (BC). Both patients and spouses report significant changes in their day-to-day roles, psychological distress (e.g., anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress), and fear of recurrence (FOR; i.e., fear that the cancer will return and/or spread to other parts of the body). The central goal of Elena’s project is to examine the influence of gratitude on relationship and individual outcomes in couples coping with early stage BC. The first part of her study uses a daily diary design in which patients and their partners each complete surveys (include reports of feelings and expressions of gratitude directed towards their partner, feelings of connectedness and intimacy, positive and negative emotions, and FOR) twice daily for 10 consecutive days. Her hypothesis is that on days that patients report greater levels of gratitude, they will also report greater relationship intimacy and lower levels of FOR. The second part of her study will examine the effects of a 6-week gratitude-based intervention on BC patient’s and spouses well-being and FOR, guided by the hypothesize that the gratitude program will lead to lower levels of FOR and increased well-being (i.e., positive emotion, life satisfaction).