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Pay It Forward: Gratitude in Social Networks

Abstract

Based on the framework of the broaden-and-build theory (Fredrickson in Philos Trans R Soc B Biol Sci 359(1449):1367, 2004a, b), we proposed that the emotion of gratitude generates upstream reciprocity (UR, which is helping an unrelated third party after being helped) by broadening the beneficiary’s perspective toward others and thus making the beneficiary represent the benefactor and newly encountered strangers in the same social category. Furthermore, by inducing one UR after another, gratitude may lead to a chain/network of UR and strengthen the structure of organization. We named the effect the integration function of gratitude and demonstrated it by applying the social network analysis technique to eighteen small groups. Implications of the integration function are discussed in terms of self-identity, social exchange theory, and quality of life.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Downstream reciprocity, which denotes the ordinary reciprocity, is also defined in contrast to its upstream counterpart.

  2. 2.

    The classification scheme of social, organizational, and political participation is actually derived from Fischer’s (2005) reexamination of Putnam’s (2001) original study. Putnam only used the concept of social capital to cover them all.

  3. 3.

    The original English GQ-6 used a 7-point scale, but we changed it to a 5-point scale to fit the original course survey.

  4. 4.

    We did not rule out the possibilities of other interactions between dispositional gratitude and well-being; however, the three mechanisms proposed by McCullough et al. (2002) are all mediation models built on emotional gratitude.

  5. 5.

    Though the strong–weak distinction is based on tie strength (Granovetter 1973) whereas Putnam’s (2001) bonding-bridging classification is for the function of tie, we believe the both analytical schemes share the same spirit toward the importance of information flow and the openness to new experience. Hence we will not differentiate them further; they are interchangeable in the current paper.

  6. 6.

    Song and Lin (2011) originally used the word social capital instead of social network. They distinguished two schools of social capital and restricted the paper by defining social capital as network connectivity. Therefore we replace social capital with network to make the article more straightforward.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by a grant form the National Science Council to Yen-Ping Chang (NSC 97-2815-C-002-140-H), Yi-Cheng Lin (NSC 99-2410-H-002-082), and Lung Hung Chen (NSC 100-2410-H-179 -007). We are grateful for the anonymous reviewer’s comments to improve the quality of our manuscript.

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Chang, YP., Lin, YC. & Chen, L.H. Pay It Forward: Gratitude in Social Networks. J Happiness Stud 13, 761–781 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-011-9289-z

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Keywords

  • Positive psychology
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Well-being
  • Broaden-and-build theory
  • Reciprocity
  • Adaptation
  • Social integration
  • Social exchange