Gratitude is central to human social life. Research shows that gratitude emerges early and confers many social and physical benefits. Critically, however, most existing work on early gratitude stems from the US or other Western societies, which are an extremely narrow, unrepresentative slice of the world’s population; as such, these findings cannot be assumed to generalize to the human population. Even if gratitude is an evolved capacity, its forms and functions within any given culture will depend on the structures, values, and beliefs of that culture and the ways in which those are socialized in younger generations. It is thus imperative that the scientific study of gratitude and its development be rooted in cultural context. This is the aim of the current project, which establishes an international collaboration to study the development and socialization of gratitude in the US and India.
Using multiple methods (interviews, experiments) with children, and surveys with parents and teachers, the project seeks to answer three Big Questions:
1. How do adults in distinct cultures think about, experience, express, and respond to gratitude?
2. How do parents socialize these aspects of gratitude in their children?
3. How does gratitude develop and what social functions does it serve among children in distinct cultures?
The project thus examines the role of culture in shaping how gratitude is elicited, expressed, and valued, how it is socialized, and how it develops. Deliverables will be empirical and review articles, a website to widely share the findings, and an interdisciplinary workshop.
The project is the first to take a multi-pronged approach to the cross-cultural study of early gratitude, thus promising a uniquely comprehensive view of gratitude development. Ultimately, it will help expand the science of this key character virtue to other cultures and will serve as the basis for developing culturally competent gratitude interventions for young children.