The purpose of this study was to test the effect of verbal expression of gratitude on relationship satisfaction. It was hypothesized that participants who expressed gratitude in a close relationship would have greater relationship satisfaction than those who did not express gratitude. At the end of the study, the experimental condition had a higher relationship satisfaction after gratitude expression, than the control condition after expression. For the experimental condition, relationship satisfaction after gratitude expression was significantly higher than before expression, while for the control, relationship satisfaction after expression was not significantly different than before expression. Thus, the hypothesis was supported.
The current study indicates broader implications of gratitude expression that lie beyond relationship satisfaction. Since displays of appreciation suggest an increase in relationship satisfaction, gratitude can lead to longer lasting relationships between partners, and thus produce an overall decrease in divorce rates in society. Gratitude expression can also serve as positive reinforcement, with appreciation promoting re-occurrences of certain desirable acts. Specifically, following gratitude expression, recipients may be more likely to repeat a favor, or go along with an unfavorable idea a second time, and this can apply to business environments. Showing appreciation to buyers after purchases, in form of gift certificates or discounts, may strengthen bonds between customers and marketers, and encourage buyers to make future purchases. In fact, Carey et al. reported a 2% increase in store sales after customers were thanked over the phone for their purchases (1976).
Although findings of this study support the initial prediction, higher relationship satisfaction for the experimental condition, in relation to the control condition, may be due to factors other than gratitude expression. One such possibility may be the effects of small or large favors on donors. Research shows individuals to display more gratitude for large favors (Berger, 1975; Ortony et al., 1988). Therefore, notable favors performed by recipients likely induced greater gratitude expression from donors. In addition, the more an individual values a favor, the longer he or she is likely to experience gratitude (Tesser, Gatewood, & Driver, 1968). Thus, depending on favor value, donors may still exhibit appreciation to recipients for performing significant favors in the past, and hold them at high standing to the present day. Therefore, higher ratings on relationship satisfaction may not be due to immediate effects of gratitude expression, but rather, the influence of past favors on donors.
The states of mood of donors prior to gratitude expression could account for the increase in relationship satisfaction. McCullough et al. (2004) report individuals in positive mood and high optimism to show greater levels of gratitude on a day-to-day...