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«Gender Differences in Gratitude: Examining Appraisals, Narratives, the Willingness to Express Emotions, and Changes in Psychological Needs Todd B. ...»

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Gender Differences in Gratitude: Examining

Appraisals, Narratives, the Willingness to Express

Emotions, and Changes in Psychological Needs

Todd B. Kashdan,1 Anjali Mishra,1 William E. Breen,1 and

Jeffrey J. Froh2

George Mason University

Hofstra University


Previous work suggests women might possess an advantage

over men in experiencing and benefiting from gratitude. We examined

whether women perceive and react to gratitude differently than men. In

Study 1, women, compared with men, evaluated gratitude expression to be less complex, uncertain, conflicting, and more interesting and exciting. In Study 2, college students and older adults described and evaluated a recent episode when they received a gift. Women, compared with men, reported less burden and obligation and greater gratitude. Upon gift receipt, older men reported the least positive affect when their benefactors were men. In Studies 2 and 3, women endorsed higher trait gratitude compared with men. In Study 3, over 3 months, women with greater gratitude were more likely to satisfy needs to belong and feel autonomous; gratitude had the opposite effect in men. The willingness to openly express emotions partially mediated gender differences, and effects could not be attributed to global trait affect. Results demonstrated that men were less likely to feel and express gratitude, made more critical evaluations of gratitude, and derived fewer benefits. Implications for the study and therapeutic enhancement of gratitude are discussed.

Accumulating evidence supports the idea that gratitude is linked to greater psychological and physical well-being (Emmons & McCullough, 2004); helps build lasting, meaningful social relationships This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health grant MH-73937 to Todd B. Kashdan. We express our gratitude to Daniel Terhar and Kate Doherty for their assistance in data collection and preparation stages.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Todd B. Kashdan, Department of Psychology, MS 3F5, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030. Email: tkashdan@gmu.edu.

Journal of Personality 77:3, June 2009 r 2009, Copyright the Authors Journal compilation r 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00562.x 692 Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.

(Fredrickson, 1998, 2004); serves as an evolutionary adaptation that sustains reciprocal altruism (Trivers, 1971); and is negatively related to emotional disturbances such as depression, social anxiety, and envy (Kashdan & Breen, 2007; McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). Many of these associations held after controlling for Big Five personality traits and social desirability biases (McCullough et al., 2002). In addition to influencing well-being, the experience of gratitude leadspeople to respond prosocially toward benefactors (Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006; Tsang, 2006, 2007) and unrelated others (Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006), resulting in an ‘‘epidemiology of altruism’’ (Nowak & Roch, 2007). Moreover, upon comparing four existing ‘‘positive psychology’’ interventions, gratitude interventions yielded the largest effects at posttreatment and follow-up assessments up to 1 month later (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).

The sheer magnitude of these relations and the therapeutic efficacy of gratitude interventions provide support for the value of devoting additional resources to understanding and enhancing gratitude.

Gratitude is experienced when people receive something beneficial or felt when somebody does something kind or helpful. It has been defined as ‘‘a sense of thankfulness and joy in response to receiving a gift, whether the gift be a tangible benefit from a specific other or a moment of peaceful bliss evoked by natural beauty’’ (Emmons, 2004, p. 554). The robustness of findings across experimental studies and interventions suggests the need to address basic questions about the nature of gratitude. Are certain people—such as men or women— less inclined to experience gratitude and derive less benefit from gratitude? If there are gender differences in reactions to gratitude, what explains this effect?

Gratitude is associated with indebtedness and dependency among some people (Solomon, 1995). It is possible that men regard the experience and expression of gratitude as evidence of vulnerability and weakness, which may threaten their masculinity and social standing (Levant & Kopecky, 1995). Consequently, men might adopt an avoidance orientation toward gratitude, showing a preference to conceal rather than express it. This would serve as a type of self-protective mechanism from contact with unwanted negative emotional experiences or adverse social consequences. Ironically, this avoidance orientation may cause even greater disruptions to psychological and social well-being. This orientation is expected to diverge from women who, on average, are more attuned to emotions and behaviors with the aim Gender Differences in Gratitude of creating and sustaining meaningful social relationships. Compared with men, women are expected to perceive gratitude as more functional or advantageous in their lives because of their heightened priority for creating and sustaining intimate relationships (Schwartz & Rubel, 2005; Timmers, Fischer, & Manstead, 1998). As a result, women are expected to derive greater benefits from the experience and expression of gratitude, including building strong and satisfying relationships.

People benefit from social relationships regardless of their social roles or value orientations (Argyle, 2001). Thus, if men tend to devalue and are less comfortable expressing gratitude, clinicians and researchers may need to give consideration to how these social cognitive processes potentially disrupt the operation of a potent source of well-being. Gratitude interventions may require refinements—being sensitive to gender and underlying processes— so people find their own appeal in grateful behavior. The series of studies in this paper attempt to investigate gender differences in gratitude.

Gender Differences in Emotions Women are generally more emotionally expressive than men and, with the exception of anger, experience emotions more intensely and frequently compared with men (Fujita, Diener, & Sandvik, 1991;

Grossman & Wood, 1993; Kring & Gordon, 1998; Naito, Wangwan, & Tani, 2005; Simon & Nath, 2004). Women are more aware of their emotions and report more complex emotional experiences compared with men (Barrett, Lane, Sechrest, & Schwartz, 2000; Ciarrochi, Hynes, & Crittenden, 2005). On average, women also report a greater willingness to express their emotions openly and show stronger tendencies to regulate them to adapt to changing social circumstances compared with men (Timmers et al., 1998). Small to moderately sized differences between men and women in the experience and expression of emotions are contingent on multiple social, emotional, interpersonal, and contextual factors.

Differences in the experience and expression of positive emotions may amplify the benefits for women compared with men. Positive emotions feel good, serve the function of broadening people’s mindsets, and allow for finite attentional resources to be redirected from unrewarding goals to other desired and more meaningful opportunities (Carver, 2003; Fredrickson, 1998). For example, positive emoKashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.

tions can aid human beings in their quest to satisfy the fundamental need to be accepted by other people (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).

Women tend to receive greater social support from peers compared with men (Eagley & Crowley, 1986). One reason may be that women possess a greater tendency to recognize acts of goodwill by others, express their appreciation, and reinforce the likelihood these acts will be repeated. Upon encoding these shared positive experiences, a durable social resource is created, with both parties more likely to respond with variants of support and responsiveness when later faced with adversity. In other words, gratitude bolsters social bonds and friendships by building people’s skills for caring, altruism, and acts of appreciation. Over time, gratitude—similar to other positive emotions—contributes to the growth of skills, relationships, and resilience. Thus, women might be at an advantage to experience psychological growth as a function of gratitude.

There are several plausible reasons why men seem less receptive to grateful feelings. Women and men are socialized differently and possess different values. In many cultures, women are expected to express certain emotions more frequently compared with men (Fischer, 1993; Grossman & Wood, 1993; Kelly & Hutson, 1999), and this expectation is more imperative for intense positive emotions (Stoppard & Gruchy, 1993). Women are expected to engage in more caretaking roles. Women perceive social communication, interdependence, and the development, maintenance, and repair of relationships to be more important than do men. For example, one study of values across 70 countries found that men rated power, novelty and stimulation, hedonism, and achievement as their most valued priorities. In contrast, women’s most important values were trying to understand and improve their relationships, be tolerant, and act in a benevolent manner toward other people (Schwartz & Rubel, 2005).

Due to deeply ingrained social norms or self-selected values, women focus greater efforts on regulating interpersonal relationships, whereas men focus their emotional expression on the maintenance and pursuit of power and status (Brody, 1997, 1999; Stoppard & Gruchy, 1993).

Gender differences in social values and regulatory goals are important because the expression and sharing of positive emotions is strongly related with social adjustment (Ingoldsby, Horlacher, Schvaneveldt, & Matthews, 2005). Gratitude is an other-focused emotion, and men may find gratitude to be less familiar and more Gender Differences in Gratitude discomforting compared with women. Moreover, with less practical experience and values that are inconsistent with the open expression of gratitude, men might find gratitude to be more challenging and anxiety provoking. If men are less oriented to the experience and expression of emotions, especially in social situations, then they are at a disadvantage for benefiting from gratitude. Men would be less likely to capitalize on how gratitude aids in the savoring of pleasant life experiences, validates social worth (i.e., gifts being objective evidence of acceptance by others), strengthens social bonds, and promotes prosocial behavior that creates opportunities for additional positive experiences.

Based on gender differences in values, whether or not men and women differ in emotional experience, expression, and benefits might depend on the situation in which gifts are recognized. For example, men are more likely to express emotions compared with women after achievement related events (Scherer, Wallbott, & Summerfield, 1986). Yet gratitude often occurs in social situations in the absence of overt achievement. Thus, we expected the immediate and longerterm benefits derived from gratitude to be more pronounced for women compared with men.

There are a small number of published studies examining how gender influences gratitude. In one study, based on a country-wide essay assignment assessing gratitude in children, girls expressed more gratitude for social relationships, whereas boys felt more grateful for materialistic possessions (Gordon, Musher-Eizenman, Holub, & Dalrymple, 2004). Furthermore, grateful feelings in social situations appear to be more frequently observed in young girls compared to boys (Baumgarten-Tramer, 1938). In a study of cross-cultural differences, older American men evaluated gratitude as less useful than other positive emotions such as love, enthusiasm, hope, compassion, and pride (Sommers & Kosmitzki, 1988). A number of older American men (at least 35 years of age) reported an explicit preference for concealing rather than expressing gratitude. In contrast, none of the younger or older women in the study showed a preference for concealing gratitude.

Two studies provide information on specific situational contexts where gratitude is influenced by gender. In one study, adult women were more likely than men to smile and say ‘‘thank you’’ when another person held the door open for them (Ventimiglia, 1982). In another study, older adult women were more likely to feel grateful to God compared with men (Krause, 2006).

696 Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.

While providing bedrock, these studies failed to address the issue of why and how the experience and expression of gratitude might differ between men and women (for an exception, see Sommers & Kosmitzki, 1988). Hence, research addressing potential mediators and moderators in explaining gender differences in gratitude are needed. We aimed to fill this void.

Gratitude is an attribution-dependent emotion (McCullough & Tsang, 2004; Weiner, 1985). People experience gratitude when they value the benefit and think the benefactor intentionally bestowed the benefit or incurred some cost in providing it (Tesser, Gatewood, & Driver, 1968). Therefore, studies designed to explain why men and women differ in the experience and expression of gratitude may prove fruitful if they assess grateful appraisals and attributions. In the current investigation, we measured people’s appraisals of grateful experience and expression. Prior studies on gender differences in gratitude also failed to consider construct specificity or alternative models. In this study, we addressed this gap in the literature by examining whether gender differences in appraisals are specific to gratitude or are relevant to various intimate social behaviors.

Examining gender as a moderator for gratitude compared to other social behaviors can provide evidence for or against the need to consider gender when investigating antecedents, consequents, and methods to enhance gratitude.

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