Recognising Gratitude through Mimicry

6 July, 2020

Growing up, we are often taught to be grateful for what we have and extend our gratitude by giving back and benefitting others. However, in today’s fast-paced and competitive society, we may forget to put our feelings of gratitude into action and behave in a selfish manner instead. In challenging times that call for togetherness, how do we set aside competitiveness and learn to act in the interest of others?

In ‘Gratitude Facilitates Behavioral Mimicry’ (American Psychological Association, 2014), the effect of gratitude on beneficiaries’ behaviour in a competitive and hostile environment is investigated. This research is conducted by Assistant Professor Jia Lile, Dr Li Neng Lee, and Associate Professor Tong Mun Wai Eddie, all from the NUS Department of Psychology, through two studies in the form of games.

A group of female students from NUS were the sample chosen to participate in these studies. Both studies involved one student participant and two pseudo participants (actors) who would participate in the studies together. In the first study, half of the student participants receive help from one actor while the other half receive no help at all. The participants’ level of gratitude is surveyed after the first study is over, and those who received help generally indicate a higher level of gratitude. The second study analyses the likelihood of these participants in mimicking the actions of the two actors during the game. Overall, participants who felt gratitude were more likely to mimic the actions of their benefactor (the actor that helped them), as compared to their non-benefactor, and participants who received no help in the first round did not mimic either actor.

This case study found that people who harbour feelings of gratitude are more likely to mimic the behaviour of their benefactor. Essentially, there is a greater likelihood for a grateful individual to exhibit helpful behaviours which their benefactors display. The findings thus suggest that feelings of gratitude can effectively reduce competitive sentiments and increase solidarity among individuals in society.

Access the full report here.
Read the NUS News feature here.