Reconsidering the roles of gratitude and indebtedness in social exchange

Cognition and Emotion 32 (4):760-772 (2017)
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Abstract

ABSTRACTReceiving favors is often a mixed blessing and commonly triggers two emotions: the positive emotion gratitude and negative emotion indebtedness. In three studies, we examined the hypothesis that gratitude and indebtedness have distinct functions in social exchange. Contrary to current views, we believe that the function of gratitude does not primarily reside in facilitating social exchange. Instead, we propose that indebtedness motivates people to repay favours received, and thus accounts for most of the prosocial effects commonly attributed to gratitude. On the other hand consistent with current views, we believe that gratitude signals the potential for developing a relationship and fosters proximity seeking. Supporting these assumptions, in Study 1 we found that gratitude and indebtedness were associated with aspects of the favour that reflect the concern for relationship and the level of inequity. Studies 2 and 3 provided causal support for these relations, and revealed the unique associations...

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