With the holiday season in full swing, ample opportunities abound to give thanks. According to a recent study, expressing gratitude may actually encourage people to help you even if they’re relative strangers.
The study, appearing in an online issue of the American Psychological Association’s journal Emotion, was coauthored by Lisa Williams, a psychology professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, and Monica Bartlett, an assistant psychology professor at Gonzaga University.
“Our study was the first to show evidence that . . . an expression of gratitude could help initiate a new relationship,” says Bartlett.
In the study, 70 college students were recruited under the guise of giving feedback on high school students’ college application essays. A week later, all participants received a handwritten note from the mentee whose essay they’d edited acknowledging receipt. But half included the following thank you message: “Thank you so much for all the time and effort you put into doing that for me!”
After receiving their letters, participants completed questionnaires about their perceptions of the students, and whether they’d be willing to communicate with their mentee in the future–like answer questions via email, or give them a campus tour. They were also given the opportunity to provide their contact information to the student they’d helped.
Researchers found those who received the thank you message were more likely to provide their contact information to the student-mentee if they needed future assistance, and describe the student more favorably than those who didn’t receive a thank you, regardless of gender.
“What we found is that those participants who were thanked . . . rated their mentee as a warmer human being, that is, more polite and thoughtful, likeable, and kind,” Bartlett says. “They were more willing to leave their contact information in order to stay in touch or socialize with their mentee.”
Barlett said she was encouraged by the findings, as these interactions were between strangers, and the corresponding willingness to help was based on a simple gesture. “Saying thank you–a simple thank you–leads people to view you as a warmer human being and consequently be more interested in socially engaging with you, continuing to get to know you, and to build a relationship with you,” Bartlett says.
This finding is in line with Bartlett’s earlier studies, which found other benefits of gratitude. “When a person’s feeling grateful, they’re more likely to behave in warm sorts of ways–to be thoughtful, helpful and kind,” she notes. “Research has shown that people who experience more gratitude more deeply and more often–that’s linked to a lot of really positive things for people, namely an increase in your own sense of well-being.”
That’s something to think about as you write your holiday cards this year.
[h/t: the Spokesman Review]