Thanks for Nothing: Expressing Gratitude Invites Exploitation by Competitors
Posted: 3 Jun 2017 Last revised: 30 Jan 2018
Date Written: October 1, 2017
Previous research has revealed that expressing gratitude motivates prosocial behavior in cooperative relationships. However, expressing gratitude in competitive interactions may operate differently. Across five studies, we demonstrate that individuals interacting with grateful counterparts become more likely to engage in selfish behavior during competitive interactions. In Studies 1a and 1b, participants who interacted with counterparts expressing gratitude were more likely to make aggressive offers in distributive negotiations than those who interacted with counterparts expressing neutral emotion. In Study 2, we find that inferences of the tendency to forgive mediates the relationship between gratitude expression and selfish behavior. In Study 3, we contrast expressions of gratitude with another positive-valence emotion: excitement. We show that expressing gratitude promotes self-interested behavior compared to expressing excitement or neutral emotion. In Study 4, we find that gratitude expression triggers self-serving deception. Taken together, our findings suggest that expressing gratitude can be costly in competitive interactions: people infer that grateful counterparts are forgiving and, therefore, they are more likely to exploit their counterparts for selfish gain.
Keywords: Gratitude, Forgiveness, Negotiations, Ethics, Emotion
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