Insufficiently Complimentary?: Underestimating the Positive Impact of Compliments Creates a Barrier to Expressing Them

Zhao, X. & Epley, N. (in press). Insufficiently complimentary?: Underestimating the positive impact of compliments creates a barrier to expressing them. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

99 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2021

See all articles by Xuan Zhao

Xuan Zhao

Stanford University

Nicholas Epley

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Date Written: 11 11, 2019

Abstract

Compliments increase the well-being of both expressers and recipients, yet people report in a series of surveys giving fewer compliments than they should give, or would like to give. Nine experiments suggest that a reluctance to express genuine compliments partly stems from underestimating the positive impact that compliments will have on recipients. Participants wrote genuine compliments and then predicted how happy and awkward those compliments would make recipients feel. Expressers consistently underestimated how positive the recipients would feel but overestimated how awkward recipients would feel (Experiments 1-3, S4). These miscalibrated expectations are driven partly by perspective gaps in which expressers underestimate how competent—and to a lesser extent how warm—their compliments will be perceived by recipients (Experiments 1-3). Because people’s interest in expressing a compliment is partly driven by their expectations of the recipient’s reaction, undervaluing a compliment creates a barrier to expressing them (Supplemental Experiments S2, S3, S4). As a result, directing people to focus on the warmth conveyed by their compliment (Experiment 4) increased interest in expressing it. We believe these findings may reflect a more general tendency for people to underestimate the positive impact of prosocial actions on others, leading people to be less prosocial than would be optimal for both their own and others’ well-being.

Keywords: social connection, compliments, happiness, well-being, prosocial behavior, social cognition

Suggested Citation

Zhao, Xuan and Epley, Nicholas, Insufficiently Complimentary?: Underestimating the Positive Impact of Compliments Creates a Barrier to Expressing Them (11 11, 2019). Zhao, X. & Epley, N. (in press). Insufficiently complimentary?: Underestimating the positive impact of compliments creates a barrier to expressing them. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3860413

Xuan Zhao (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.xuan-zhao.com

Nicholas Epley

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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