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Meet Our Gratitude Dissertation Fellows!

Announcement | January 28, 2013

The GGSC supports young scholars studying gratitude in teens, brains, workplaces, hospitals, and more!

The Greater Good Science Center is proud to present its first wave of Gratitude Dissertation Research Awardees, which includes distinguished students nationwide from the fields of psychology, sociology, social welfare, and business. They are an outstanding group of young researchers who are committed to expanding the science and practice of gratitude.

This Dissertation Research Award program is part of a larger project, Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude, funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The GGSC will announce a second wave of Gratitude Dissertation Award recipients in the summer of 2013.

Gratitude Dissertation Research Fellows 2012-2014

Boram Do, Boston College
Gratitude in Workplaces

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.

Glenn R. Fox, University of Southern California
The Brain’s Virtuous Cycle: An Investigation of Gratitude and Good Human Conduct

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 Gordon, University of California, Berkeley
Beyond Thanks: Determinants of Gratitude

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.

Elana Szczesny, University of Delaware
The Role of Gratitude in Relationship Functioning and Fear of Recurrence in Couples Coping with Breast Cancer

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).

Jennifer Hames, Florida State University
Testing the Efficacy of a Gratitude Intervention in Individuals at Risk for Suicide and Depression

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.

Tristen Inagaki, University of California, Los Angeles
The neuropharmacological basis of gratitude

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 Jung, University of California, Berkeley
Gratitude in Action: Gift Economy and Pay-It-Forward Pricing

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.

Mindy Steinberg, University of California, Los Angeles
The Development and Constancy of Feelings of Gratitude for Mexican-Origin Teens in 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.


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