Gratitude and Indebtedness

2 Aug

Reciprocity is at the base of most human interactions. Quid pro quo-tis for tat- the business transaction- the contract represent the role of reciprocity as a form of indebtedness, whereas being in the moment- appreciating the time of the other person as a gift- creating the moment is reciprocity in the form of gratitude.  Is there an empirical distinction between the two?

In a study conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University, Maureen Mathews and Jeff Green sought to show what makes these two forms of reciprocity different. Through a co-relational study, they identified that there was a psychological and statistically important difference between the concepts. They followed up the co-relational study with a lab experiment, where an experimental group sat in front of a mirror while recalling a time when they had received a gift from a friend or family member. The control group recalled a time when they received a gift without the mirror. Both groups completed a self survey to measure gratitude. The researchers discovered that the difference between the two phenomena was a focus on self (i.e. selfishness). The implications were identified when they found that indebtedness correlated with self-consciousness, selfishness, skewed empathy, image management, and emotional blindness, while gratitude did not have these anxiety producing relationships, was natural to the person, and built the other person’s esteem up.

You get what you ask for.

Indebtedness builds one-up relationships, while gratitude builds friendships. The importance of this study comes down to whether other people will trust your motivations and want to build a positive relationship with you. After all, other people love being able to trust another person completely.

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