Several months ago, I drafted a blog post about a rather discouraging piece of research on gratitude. Jeremy Yip, Cindy Chan, Kelly Kiyeon Lee, and Alison Wood Brooks conducted a study regarding competitive negotiations. They discovered that "negotiators are likely to respond selfishly and opportunistically to gratitude expressed in competitive deal-making situations."
Today I have some encouraging news about gratitude. Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley have published some interesting work in Psychological Science based on a series of experiments that they conducted. The scholars asked people to write thank you notes to people who had a positive impact on them in some way. The researchers also asked each note writer to predict how the recipient would feel upon receiving the expression of gratitude. The British Psychological Society's Research Digest recently summarized the key findings from this research.
The senders of the thank-you letters consistently underestimated how positive the recipients felt about receiving the letters and how surprised they were by the content. The senders also overestimated how awkward the recipients felt; and they underestimated how warm, and especially how competent, the recipients perceived them to be. Age and gender made no difference to the pattern of findings.
Other experiments showed that these same misjudgments affect our willingness to write thank-you messages. For instance, participants who felt less competent about writing a message of gratitude were less willing to send one; and, logically enough, participants were least willing to send thank-you messages to recipients who they felt would benefit the least.
Kumar and Epley believe that this asymmetry between the perspective of the potential expresser of gratitude and the recipient means that we often refrain from a “powerful act of civility” that would benefit both parties.
The lesson is clear... take the time to write that thank you note, becuase it will probably have more of an impact than you believe. You might just make someone's day, and it won't take much effort on your part to do so.